NEW YORK -- Michael Crabtree ditched the boot about two weeks ago.
"I buried it," he said with a sly smile.
Crabtree's surgically repaired left foot was mostly confined to a protective boot for five weeks, but Tuesday, the Texas Tech wide receiver had black sneakers on both feet as he strolled around a Manhattan office building, no limp in sight.
"The recovery is going real good," Crabtree said. "My foot is doing well. I feel like I'm taking it one step at a time."
Crabtree arrived in New York on Monday night and spent Tuesday running around town to promote his first national endorsement deal. He recently became the latest star athlete to sign a deal with the sandwich shop Subway, joining retired New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Olympic gold-medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps and Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.
But the big day is Saturday, when Crabtree is expected to be among the first players selected in the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall.
The 21-year-old wide receiver from Dallas spent two seasons at Texas Tech, dominating defensive backs and averaging more than a touchdown per game. From the moment he declared for the draft in January, Crabtree seemed a lock to be the first receiver drafted and a top-10 pick.
Not so fast.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, a routine medical exam revealed that Crabtree had a stress fracture in his left foot. No one was more surprised than Crabtree. He thought he was just sore.
Suddenly, the sure thing had a huge question mark hanging over him.
"Tell you the truth, I always face those kind of challenges. When I was going to college, I had a minor setback and I had to sit out a year," Crabtree said, referring to his redshirt freshman season brought on because the NCAA was slow to declare him academically eligible.
"I feel like when things are going too smooth, there's something wrong," he added. "(The injury) was nothing but a challenge to me. Everybody made it a big deal. It wasn't a big deal."
After the fracture was revealed, Crabtree's first move was to cancel his 40-yard dash at the combine. The next day, he said he would run at pro day in Lubbock, Texas, and put off having surgery.
Soon after, Crabtree changed his mind, deciding it was more important to have the foot fixed quickly than to be timed running a 40 in shorts. On March 4, he had surgery.
"I had to make the best decision, and the best decision was for me to go on and get surgery so I could be ready for training camp," Crabtree said. "The only thing I want to do is play."
It would be an overstatement to say Crabtree's stock has slipped, but that blank space next to his 40 time does leave at least one question unanswered. However, because scouts weren't expecting Crabtree to burn up the track and he does so many other things well, the chances that he'll still be the first receiver taken Saturday are good.
For all the crazy passing numbers that Texas Tech has put up in Mike Leach's nine years as coach -- the Red Raiders have led the country in passing yards per game in six of the last seven years -- the program has never produced an NFL prospect at wide receiver or quarterback as highly touted as Crabtree. In two seasons at Texas Tech, Crabtree caught 231 passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns.
While the pass-heavy system does inflate the numbers, it also provided Crabtree with plenty of repetitions.
"I feel I've ran every route there is to run," he said. "We run more than any receivers in college football. I feel like I've been doing this since Day 1. Running routes. Blocking. I do everything a receiver is supposed to do."
Crabtree has visited with so many NFL teams that he had a hard time remembering them all. The St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns were the ones he rattled off. He said none of them seemed concerned about his injury.
And about that 40 time?
"I feel like I'm fast enough on film," Crabtree said. "If I ran the 40, I feel like I'd be faster than people expect me to be."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press