April 26, 2004
Cullowhee, N.C. -
Although Western Carolina did not have a player drafted by the National Football League over the past weekend, three Catamounts have signed free agent contracts to date. Quarterback Brian Gaither signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens, Nick McNeil signed a three-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michale Spicer signed a three-year deal with the Buffalo Bills.
Gaither and Spicer will report to their respective rookie camps this weekend, while McNeil will report to Pittsburgh on May 6.
Gaither had an impressive senior season with the Catamounts, earning All-Southern Conference honors. This past season, he paced the SoCon individually in passing yards (226.4 avg.), total offense (230.1 avg.) and passing touchdowns (14). Not only did he lead the conference in total offense, but he ranked 24th nationally, while ranking 11th in NCAA I-AA in completions per game (20.5). Over the past two years, the Winston-Salem, N.C., native helped Western lead the league in passing. For the season, Gaither completed 246 passes, which is a WCU regular-season record, for 2,717 yards, which is the third-best single-season total in school history. At Georgia Southern, he established a school record by completing 35 passes in a game and had a career-high with 3,321 passing yards.
For his career, Gaither leaves Western ranked among the WCU all-time top five in six offensive categories, including completions (2nd, 422), pass attempts (4th, 764), passing yards (5th, 5,159 yards), completion percentage (2nd, 55.23 percent), touchdown passes (5th, 27) and total offense (4th, 5,276 yards).
"I now have one foot in the door," Gaither said. "I am going to work hard to get my other foot in the door, then shut the door and stay for a while."
McNeil is coming off his third All-SoCon season, ending his career fourth (tied) on the WCU all-time tackles for loss list (45) and sixth on the school's all-time sack list (18.5). This past season, the Leland, N.C., product finished third on the team in tackles with 63, while ranking third in the SoCon in both sacks (5.5) and TFLs (16.5). McNeil closed the season in fine fashion, averaging 7.2 tackles per game with 12 TFLs over the final five contests of the season. In his final career game as a Catamount, McNeil tallied eight tackles versus Gardner-Webb, including four for losses and 1.5 sacks. He was tabbed SoCon Defensive Player of the Week for his effort. Also, his play late in the season played a role in Western leading the SoCon in rushing defense (111.9 yards per game) in a league which featured three of the top 15 rushing teams in the nation.
As a junior, McNeil led the SoCon in fumble recoveries, while ranking second on the team with 77 total hits. As a sophomore, McNeil led the league in sacks (10).
"I am very excited," McNeil said. "I can't wait to get started. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I am ready to take advantage of this situation. I have waited a long time for this chance and I will take full advantage of this opportunity."
Spicer, a two time All-SoCon pick and 2002 All-American selection, shattered the Western record for career tackles for losses (58), while finishing with 29 career sacks, one sack shy of Louis Cooper's school record. This past season, the Goldsboro, N.C., native had 16 tackles for losses, including 7.5 sacks to rank second in the SoCon. He showed his great athleticism with an interception versus Elon, while also playing fullback in short yardage situations. Against SoCon champion Wofford, Spicer scored on his only rushing attempt, finding the endzone from one yard out. He had a slow start to the season due to an injury, but ended the year being a consensus All-SoCon pick and playing the annual Blue Gray All-Star Classic.
As a junior, Spicer led the SoCon and set a WCU single-season record with 26 TFLs. He additionally ranked second in the SoCon in sacks (11), while ranking seventh nationally in both TFLs and sacks.
"All my hard work has paid off," Spicer said. "I am excited and ready to take advantage of this opportunity."
Not being drafted has not discouraged former Catamounts from going on to the next level.
After one year at WCU, David Rivers has had opportunities with the St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons the past two years. He is currently playing with the 4-0 Berlin Thunder in NFL Europe, completing over 80 percent of his passes to date.
This past year, Western Carolina had two undrafted free agents that represented their respective teams in the Super Bowl. Brad Hoover helped the Carolina Panthers reach the Super Bowl, while wide receiver David Patten has won two NFL titles as a member of the New England Patriots.
Western's Tony Jones enjoyed a successful NFL career as an undrafted free agent, winning two Super Bowls as a member of the Denver Broncos. Also, Dean Biasucci was an undrafted free agent who went on to be the Colts' all-time leading scorer with 783 points from 1984-94. Signing with the Atlanta Falcons out of college as a free agent, Tiger Greene had a seven-year NFL career, six as a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers.
In its history, Western Carolina has had seven players drafted by the NFL, including Andrew Jordan (sixth round in 1994), Willie Williams (sixth round in 1993), Kirk Roach (fifth round in 1988), Clyde Simmons (ninth round in 1986), Louis Cooper (11th round in 1985), Eddie McGill (10th round in 1982) and Steve Williams (10th round in 1972).