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March 8, 2013In the past two months, TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga has been criticized and questioned, his draft stock has been doubted and his potential as an NFL player has been dissected over and over.
Some of that was to be expected, really.
Maponga, a redshirt junior last season, had one season of eligibility left, but chose to leave for the NFL Draft instead. He battled injuries in 2012 but was nearing 100 percent in time for TCU's bowl game in December, leaving the door open for what could have been a big senior season. Not only would he likely have been healthy, he would have been playing on a veteran defense across from Devonte Fields, a distraction to offenses Maponga didn't have the luxury of benefitting from in 2011 when he led the team with nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.
He also was nearing graduation, needing about two semesters to finish.
But in January, when Maponga decided to leave school, two thoughts dominated his decision:
Physically, he felt was ready. Personally, he felt he needed to be.
Video: TCU draft prospects work out for pro scouts Thursday during pro day
"It was me deciding, OK, you know what, I got a chance to help out my family," Maponga told PurpleMenace.com Thursday afternoon following his TCU pro day workout. "I didn't want her to work that hard, and I got my daughter -- she's four months now -- and I have to make her future a lot better than mine to where she doesn't have to worry about anything. Everything she needs, she'll get it. That kind of made my decision a little easier to see it from a family standpoint and not just as business."
Maponga's mother, Barbara Green, works three jobs. He also has a four-month-old daughter, Nyasha.
Supporting his mother has been a priority for Maponga for a while, he said.
"She's been there my whole life, working at nights, working in the morning, she pretty much works the whole day just to try to support me and my brother," he said. "To me, I couldn't see that again no more."
Maponga will likely get drafted in April, but he'll still be one of the more interesting prospects to track over the next few years for several seasons.
To begin with, Maponga is sort of an "tweener" - he was a successful at defensive end for TCU, but, at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, he's built better for an NFL linebacker.
Maponga said he wants to prove he can do a little of both. That's what he's been working on in Miami, where he's been training since January.
"Some of the teams want me to play outside linebacker so my goal was to prepare myself for the combine and the pro day just working on some outside linebacker drills, too just letting them know I can go out in coverage," he said. "Even though I didn't do as much covering at TCU, I'm still able to go out into coverage."
But the biggest issue might not be where he can play in the NFL, but rather if he can play healthy, the question of his right foot's durability having popped up lately in NFL circles.
The basics of Maponga's injury are this: He injured the foot against Baylor, sat out two games after that then came back and played the rest of the season. It wasn't always easy. Maponga said at certain times last season he played with a "nine out of 10" pain in his foot, with 10 being the not-so-good end of that scale.
"That's how much pain I was going through in the games," he said.
He turned a corner toward the end of the season, eventually healing up to around full strength in time for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan State on Dec. 29.
He went into NFL Combine two weeks ago feeling the same way.
Then came the pre-workout physical.
Maponga said he passed the first five rounds of tests before the last one revealed damage in his foot.
"When I went to the combine, all five rooms told me I was good but one room," he said. "And that one room they said by the look of it, your foot, it looks like it might not break now, but it may break later."
Maponga said the doctors described the bone as "soft" and compared the constant stress on the bone to the way a piece of metal reacts to heat, bending more and more until it pops.
At the time, Maponga was just disappointed he couldn't perform.
"They told me that last-minute the combine decided you're not going to go," he said. "I didn't want it to seem like I was trying to hide something from the teams. I'm just glad I got that out the way here at the pro day."
Maponga said he is confident surgery later this spring will ease some teams' fears.
"Basically, all the teams love me," he said. "What they told me, was you should just get the surgery. If you get the surgery, you're going to be good, because right now, that's my only red flag."
In the meantime, Maponga said he doesn't mind going a little unnoticed.
"Right now, I'm flying under the radar and that's fine -- that's how I want to keep it," he said. "By the time draft comes, when they call my name, people are going to be surprised like, who is this, right now, I like my name flying under the radar."
Maponga said it goes back to his family and being able to support it.
"(Nyasha) means the world to me," he said. "Just to see her smile and not have to worry, 'are the lights going to go off?' or, 'am I going to have food on my plate?' Just stuff like that, knowing that every day is going to be taken care of, that daddy's going to take care of everything. She doesn't have to worry about anything -- everything she needs, she's going to have it, and I'm going to work hard for it and make her life a lot easier than mine."