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Naimoli helps local player earn NFL shot
By JOE SMITH
Published May 18, 2007
Carl Berman, who played football at Boca Ciega, was a receiver for Indiana State.
Former Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli said that, "sometimes, serendipity can be important."
Just ask former Boca Ciega receiver Carl Berman.
With a little help from Naimoli, Berman found an unusual path to fulfill his childhood NFL dreams.
Berman, an undrafted rookie receiver out of Indiana State, signed a free-agent deal Tuesday with the Redskins. Soon, he was "starstruck" as he caught passes from Mark Brunell and lined up alongside Santana Moss.
The scene was a far cry from his four seasons with the Sycamores, a struggling program that lost 24 consecutive games. At Indiana State's "pro day, " just one scout attended.
Berman had the speed 4.3 40 yards and the skills. But, at 5 feet 9, 166 pounds, all he ever wanted was a shot.
Enter Naimoli. Berman's mother, Caren Dana, works for the Rays and asked the Notre Dame alumnus and donor for a favor.
With one phone call to an Irish associate athletic director, Naimoli got Berman into the granddaddy of all pro days in South Bend, Ind.
Soon, Berman was working out in front of 100-plus scouts, NFL owners and general managers, who had flocked to watch quarterback Brady Quinn. Berman never caught a Quinn pass, but he admittedly caught a break.
"It opened a lot of doors, " Berman said.
So did Berman's speed. He ran a blazing 4.26 40 in the Irish's indoor practice facility. Soon, scouts were swooning, some asking if he'd be interested in playing defensive back.
But Berman has found a great fit in Washington, which is "extremely happy with him, " receivers coach Stan Hixon said. "He's making plays every day."
Said Naimoli: "It's all on Carl - any success he gets is all his. All I did was make a phone call."
Berman said all the "highs and lows" of his career made him appreciate this moment more.
The speedy standout earned a spot in the Pinellas All-Star Classic his senior year at Boca Ciega. But when only a few Division I schools offered him walk-on spots, Berman accepted an underdog role at Terre Haute.
There, the Sycamores took plenty of lumps, including a winless 2005 season.
"It was like the movie, Groundhog Day, " Berman said. "That makes you stronger, though, when you deal with such a low. You learn from it."
Berman stayed positive, turning his attention toward getting his degree in exercise science (3.05 GPA). Drawing offered him an escape, as did playing with a stray cat he took in from a campus tree.
After 24 loses, the Sycamores broke the longest Division I streak by winning their homecoming game on Oct. 21. The fans rushed the field. The newspapers put Indiana State on their front page.
"It was like we won the Super Bowl, " Berman said. "It was a huge weight off your shoulders."
Berman said he was equally relieved when he signed with the Redskins. He said his head is still "spinning" paging through the playbook during late nights in his Dulles, Va., apartment.
But he's grateful to Naimoli and Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, for giving him an extra opportunity to shine.
"He was like the Little Wide Receiver Who Could, " said Dana, joking. "Carl never gave up."