Gareon Conley woke up in Columbus on Thursday, unsure how the 11th-hour rape accusation a woman leveled against him would affect his NFL draft status, not to mention his life.
He ended the night in celebration after the Oakland Raiders took him with the 24th pick.
It was a whirlwind day that included a dash to Akron for a polygraph test that ended two minutes before the draft.
“It was a crazy day,” said Conley’s Columbus-based agent, Adam Heller.
According to Heller, Conley might have been the most outwardly calm person in his circle.
“There was never a breakdown, never a why-me or self-pity moment or anything like that,” Heller said. “It was we need to take care of what we need to take care of.”
Part of that is just Conley’s low-key nature. But he was steadfast in professing his innocence, which he declared in a statement Wednesday.
Any legal issues will play out in due course if charges are brought against him. But time was of the essence in terms of his football career after the accusation surfaced early in the week.
Conley had been reportedly climbing up draft charts. That momentum ended. Conley and his team had to do everything they could to reassure teams that he remained a worthy first-round pick.
Heller said that Conley talked to three teams directly. In midafternoon, at the request of the Baltimore Ravens, Conley’s attorney, Kevin Spellacy, called polygraphist Bill Evans to see if a test could be set up before the draft.
Evans was in eastern Ohio but agreed to meet Conley at his Akron office. Conley arrived at 6:15.
Evans, who said he knew nothing about the Conley story, did a pre-test assessment and then conducted the formal polygraph exam. Evans told The Dispatch that the polygraph testing centered on two disputed issues: the location where Conley met the accuser and whether they’d had sexual intercourse.
According to the Cleveland Police Department report of the incident, the woman said she met Conley at the Westin Hotel and that he raped her. Conley denied the latter and said they met earlier that night at a restaurant.
Evans said that both his pretest discussion with Conley and the formal polygraph results support Conley’s belief.
“I interviewed Gareon at length,” Evans said. “My impression of his clinical behavior alone, separate and apart from any polygraph testing, was that he was not deceptive. He didn’t seem to be practicing any attempt to avoid questions. He was very direct and responsive to my questions in the pretest interview, which is sometimes a telling stage. In this case, it didn’t raise any suspicions with me.
“There didn’t seem to be any inconsistencies regarding his stories. Sometimes, there are breaks in details that differ from time to time to time because a person can’t keep those facts straight if they’re not telling the truth about them. In the polygraph testing itself, he was truthful in respect to those questions I presented to him.”
The exam ended at 7:58, only two minutes before the start of the draft. While Conley drove to his already-started gathering of family and friends that had already begun, Heller and his team began spreading the word about the results.
Though Conley was not at the draft site in Philadelphia on Thursday, he was there briefly Tuesday before it was decided it would be a distraction if he stayed. But Conley and his reps continually called teams trying to reassure them.
“We were on the phone nonstop,” Heller said. “This is kind of embarrassing, but my bicep was actually sore and I couldn’t figure out why. I put my phone to my ear the next day and realized my arm was sore because the phone was to my ear (constantly). So I need to get some headphones, or I need to get in shape — one of the two.”
Heller said he believes that Conley would have been the first cornerback taken, even ahead of Buckeye Marshon Lattimore, if not for the accusation. But Lattimore was taken 11th by New Orleans and the Ravens passed on Conley at No. 16, instead taking cornerback Marlon Humphrey of Alabama.
But Heller said there was no tension at Conley’s draft gathering. Conley and his representatives had the peace of mind of believing they’d done everything they could to make their case. As the hours passed, Heller said, the mood in the room remained upbeat.
“Everybody was having a good time, enjoying each other,” he said. “Nobody was sitting there on pins and needles, feeling bad or sorry — led by Gareon. He was happy to be around his family.”
Shortly before 11 p.m., the wait ended when the Raiders called to inform Conley that he was their choice.
“When I got that call,” Conley said in his introductory news conference Friday in Oakland, “I couldn’t even hear the phone call because my family tackled me as soon as I put my phone to my ear.
“I’ve been shaking ever since. This is the most proud I’ve ever been of myself in my life because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m just thankful to have it.”