Ex-Bulldog Shirley snared by Bengals

April 28, 2008 

A peculiar area code ran across his caller ID when Jason Shirley's cell phone rang early Sunday afternoon.

The former Fresno State football player had been waiting anxiously for a certain call to come his way, with the second day of the NFL draft taking place.

And when a 513 area code flashed on the phone, Shirley had a good idea what was next but still answered the call a bit nervously.

It was just two weeks ago that the Cincinnati Bengals had called with the same area code flashing on Shirley's cell phone to invite him to an interview.

But would they draft him this soon?

The 6-foot-5, 329-pound defensive tackle was projected to go in the late rounds of the NFL draft -- maybe having to sign as an undrafted free agent because of off-the-field troubles that cost him most of his senior year.

Like most of the past few months, though, Shirley's life has been full of surprises.

Sunday was one of those good surprises, with Cincinnati taking Shirley with the 145th pick overall -- the 10th selection of the fifth round.

"With all of the things I was going through these past months, everything is starting to fall in order," a relieved Shirley said after watching the draft from his parents' home in Fontana. "It's exciting to be a part of another football team, another program, and that I have another opportunity to play again."

Shirley was the only Fresno State player drafted and joins Utah State receiver and Hoover High graduate Kevin Robinson as players with local ties to get selected.

Robinson was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs as the 182nd pick overall and 16th pick of the sixth round.

Shirley's selection keeps Fresno State's streak intact of having at least one player taken in each draft since 2000.

"It's an exciting time," Shirley said. "I'm trying to take things one step at a time, not get too worked up. I'm ready to go out there and work hard."

Shirley came to Fresno State with much promise and as one of the biggest players ever under coach Pat Hill.

Though dominant at times, Shirley often drew criticism for not producing enough. The biggest knock on Shirley going into his senior year was that he took too many plays off and would lose technique when tired.

But the concerns shifted toward Shirley's off-the-field issues his senior year as he was limited to three games because of three separate suspensions.

He missed the first two for conduct detrimental to the team. He played the next three games before getting suspended a second time after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

Police say he crashed a car into an apartment complex on Oct. 8., which brought three misdemeanor charges against Shirley. He was accused of driving under the influence, driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08% or higher, and hit and run.

Still, Shirley went on to win an appeal with the university a month later and was reinstated for the final three games.

But a few days later, Shirley was charged with driving with a suspended license and expired registration, which led to his third suspension.

Shirley faces trial May 21 in Fresno County Superior Court on all the charges.

He joins a Bengals organization that has earned a reputation for having problem-child-type players, such as recently cut receiver Chris Henry, who has been arrested five times since 2005.

The Bengals spoke to Shirley's lawyer, Charles Magill, earlier this month to find out details of his trial.

"At this point in the draft," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said on the team's Web site, "we felt that his ability and potential and what was pending, that we were able to deal with [Shirley's off-the-field issues]."

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