Eight years after leaving the University of Hawaii football team as a top wide receiver, Ashley Lelie is seeking another Warrior completion.
Lelie has returned to Hawaii, where he will complete work toward a bachelor’s degree while serving as a student manager for the Warriors.
"Finishing my degree is the main thing," said Lelie, who relinquished his senior season to apply for the 2002 NFL draft. "I have a year left. If I can take care of a couple of incompletes, it will be less than that. But it will be good to be around football again. I was starting to miss it."
As a student manager, Lelie will receive a tuition waiver and be allowed to offer advice to the receivers.
"I definitely want to help the team out," Lelie said.
The Radford High graduate’s biography had a storybook plot — at least early.
Lelie, who joined the Warriors as a non-scholarship player, had a record-setting collegiate career. The Denver Broncos selected Lelie with the 19th pick in the first round of the 2002 draft, the highest selection of a UH player.
In 2002, he led AFC rookies in receiving yards (525). Two years later, he topped NFL receivers with an average of 20.1 yards per catch.
But in 2006, he staged an infamous holdout, skipping the Broncos’ organized team activities and being AWOL for training camp. At issue was not money — although missing mandatory training camp forced him to pay back an option bonus — but his demotion to the second string.
During the holdout, Lelie refused to take calls from friends, even forwarding former UH coach June Jones’ inquiries to voice mail.
He eventually forced a trade to the Atlanta Falcons, triggering the spiraling of a reputation that eventually led to unproductive stops with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.
"I don’t regret it," Lelie said of his feelings at the time, but "I should have done it a different way. There are ways I could have done it to make it look as if I wasn’t as selfish. I could have still gone to camp and worked with the team. … I do regret the way I went about it, but I don’t regret feeling the way I felt, and acting on it."
Lelie said he believes the holdout set an uncomfortable tone with each new team.
"It was hard for a lot of coaches to get a gauge," Lelie said. "All they knew was I was the guy who held out. The first perception of me wasn’t right. A lot of guys thought I was a bad guy, a negative type of person they didn’t want on their team. The teams I went to (after Denver), like Atlanta, didn’t get warmed up to me until it was too late."
The Chiefs cut Lelie last September, and he has not played since. Not putting up numbers on losing teams, he believes, led to diminishing interest.
"There are a million other wideouts," he said. "You get lost in the shuffle. I put it more on that than my ability. I didn’t have too many injuries. I still feel fresh. I still feel I can run a low 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash), even today. But there are a lot of guys who can do that."
When it appeared his career was over, Lelie called UH offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, his former Warriors teammate. Rolovich encouraged head coach Greg McMackin to invite Lelie to serve as student manager.
"It’s time to move on," Lelie said. "It’s time to get out of purgatory between not knowing what to do. It kind of feels good to have a game plan in my life."
Lelie, who is majoring in history, said he would like to teach. As for coaching, his work with UH, he said, will serve as a "dry run."
"I’ve always wanted to work with kids, maybe mentoring," he said. "The first step is to get my degree. After that, teaching and maybe coaching. If it’s something for me, I guess I’ll figure it out this year."
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