Shawn Witten earns free-agent contract with Jets

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Just one day after Jason Witten was taken in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, his brother decided to get in on the action as well.
   Former Elizabethton High and Virginia Tech standout Shawn Witten signed a free-agent contract with the New York Jets on Sunday night.
   "All I can ask is for them to give me a chance," Witten said just shortly after inking with the Jets. "They only have three wide receivers with any experience. Their top receiver, Laveraneus Coles, went to the Redskins. They're bringing in three or four guys to try and win spots."
   Witten will certainly have that shot, but more importantly, will get the opportunity to make some history.
   The Witten brothers could be the first two brothers from Carter County to play in the NFL. Even more amazing is it could happen to two guys in the same family.
   Witten's grandfather, former Elizabethton High School head coach Dave Rider, couldn't be a happier guy.
   "I've been proud of these boys all their life," Rider said. "These boys have had to overcome so much, so they deserve it. They worked six and seven days a week year round. Hopefully, they're going to make it."
   As soon as the NFL Draft was over at around 5:30 Sunday afternoon, teams had started calling Witten about possibly trying out as a free-agent.
   By 7 p.m. Sunday night, Witten was headed to New York. Witten will start rookie camp on Thursday.
   "Teams started calling my agent and said they liked how I ran routes, caught balls and liked how I played on special teams," Witten said. "They liked my style of play. It's going to be a great experience for me and my family. I'm tickled too death."
   His special teams play might have been the difference in the Jets showing interest in him. Witten played for Frank Beamer's special teams unit that was known around college football circles as one of the best in the country.
   Witten thinks that diversity helped him get this far.
   "If you're a guy to fill a position, you've got to do more than just one thing," he said. "You have to be able to do other things. It adds to your ability playing special teams. It's a big plus for me and a big advantage."
   Another reason Witten might have been signed was due to an incredible work ethic. Witten may not be the fastest guy on the team, but he believes nobody is going to work harder than him.
   "I don't think there's anybody that works harder," Witten said. "I know it's going to take a lot more hard work. I may make it or I may not, but I'm going to try hard and do my best."
   The former Hokie's big night comes just one day following Jason being drafted in the third round after being projected as a first-round pick.
   That was a little disappointing for the Witten family, but they can now look back on it and see that two brothers are getting an opportunity to make history.
   "We would have loved for Jason to have been drafted a little higher," Shawn said. "It's hard to believe he dropped as low as he did, but we've got to make the best of it."
   Rider believes that despite everything that happened on Saturday, both brothers can now be pleased.
   "This kind of evens out everything," Rider said about Shawn's signing. "I've told them that things happen for the best, and that God has a plan for everything.
   "I'm real happy for their mom (Kim Barnett). Not many moms have two Division I football players and now she's got two trying out for the NFL."
   Shawn Witten says both the family and the community can be proud of this.
   "This is something special," he said. "Everybody follows the Witten brothers. There's not a better community. We love coming back home.
   "There's no prouder family. We thank everybody for what they've done to help get us here."
   With the Witten family used to splitting up on Saturday's to go to Blacksburg and Knoxville, Rider says if the two make it to the NFL, the family will be represented each week.
   "I'll tell you one thing, there will be somebody from the family there," he said.
   DRAFT NOTEBOOK
   * A third area product was drafted on Sunday afternoon, as the Baltimore Ravens selected former Tennessee and Science Hill standout Aubrayo Franklin. The defensive lineman was drafted in the fifth round despite starting only seven games during his career in Knoxville.
   * East Tennessee State wide receiver Cecil Moore was expected to have his name called on draft day, but wasn't selected at all. Moore's name being called would have been a bright spot on what has been a bad week for the ETSU football program, which is expected to fold after this season.