Reflections On A Wild Draft Weekend
Three Herd Players Drafted, Four Others Sign
Byron Leftwich displays a Jacksonville Jaguars jersey along with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. (Photo by John Montanez)
By Ricky Hazel
Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NEW YORK CITY – Now and forever, he will always be the “Magnificent 7".
Former Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich walked onto the stage of the theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday after having his named called by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Despite some confusion surrounding the pick (more on that later) there was no confusing the lasting image that I will take away from the draft.
I will always remember that smile.
As Byron walked out to meet the commissioner, carrying a Jaguars jersey and wearing the hat of his new team, his smile told the whole story. He was as happy as I have ever seen him.
In the weeks and months leading up to this day Byron was asked hundreds of times about where he wanted to play. Cincinnati? Chicago? Dallas? Phoenix?
He never gave an indication. Like the consummate professional that he is, his standard line when the question came up was “I’ll be happy to play for any of the 32 teams in the NFL.”
Personally, I was hoping that Dallas would make the pick. Can you imagine Byron taking the mighty Dallas Cowboys back to glory. He would have been the biggest thing going in Texas.
The only thing Byron ever told me was that wanted to go somewhere warm. Obviously, he has played in some cold weather, and will again down the line, but the idea of living and working in a warm climate appealed to him.
As draft got closer, it became more and more apparent that Jacksonville had their sights on Leftwich. We didn’t know how much they really wanted him until draft day, when they had to do some quick maneuvering to secure his services.
The opening picks in the draft went by without a hitch. First Carson Palmer came off the board, then the two receivers – Charles Rogers and Andre Johnson. The Jets, who had traded with the Bears, stepped in and picked Dewayne Robertson from Kentucky and then Dallas took Terrence Newman from Kansas State.
Then things got weird.
The Saints traded with Phoenix and took Jonathan Sullivan from Georgia, which surprised a lot of folks. That put Minnesota on the clock.
I knew the Vikings weren’t going to draft Byron – they don’t have a need. I also knew the next three teams in the draft order – Jacksonville, Carolina and Baltimore – all wanted him.
So the time was drawing near.
As the clock wound down on Minnesota, you got the feeling that something was up. I kept watching the Vikings table, and no one ever made a move to turn in their pick. They just sat there and let time run out.
Before the words “the Vikings pass” could echo through the balcony and sink in with the fans, the Jags had their card in.
“With the seventh pick in the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Byron Leftwich, quarterback, Marshall University,” Tagliabue said.
The scene from there was really strange. There were security guards placed between the tables of the Jags and the Vikings. The announce team went nuts wondering what was going on in Minnesota, and the Panthers jumped with in with their pick, tackle Jordan Gross, before Minnesota realized what had happened.
Everyone knows by now that Minnesota was working a trade with Baltimore for the seventh pick. The Vikings had reported it to the league, but before in is official, both teams have to report it. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome apparently tried, but the two phone numbers he had to make that report were apparently busy, and time expired.
I have a pretty good suspicion why they were busy. Jacksonville knew what was going on, tied up the lines and jumped in with their pick as soon as time ran out.
It created some chaos, but the result was Byron got picked by the team he really wanted to go to.
After a few photos, Leftwich was hustled upstairs, through the crowd, to the Play-By-Play Lounge, which was being used as a media interview room. He answered a few questions and was quickly hustled out the door to a waiting limo for the ride to LaGuardia to catch the first flight out for Jacksonville.
I got to walk with him to the media room, and congratulate him, but before you knew it, he was gone. I got to spend some time with Byron’s mom Brenda, his brother Kevin, his uncle and a group of his friends from D.C. and they were, needless to say, excited as well. Like me, they were a little stunned at how quickly things happened and how quickly Byron was gone.
By that time, we had all seen what we came to see and cleared out, heading back to the hotel. Byron’s family headed back to D.C. that afternoon, but we stayed in New York another night.
I was out in Times Square with Anthony Hanshew and Randy Snyder from the Huntington Herald-Dispatch when I got the call that Chris Crocker had been picked in the third round by Cleveland. I gave Chris a quick call and you could tell how excited he was.
Sunday brought news that Steve Sciullo was selected in the fourth round by Indianapolis. When I finally go to talk to him, he said that he thinks they want him to play right guard. Steve played left tackle at Marshall for four years and is one of the best I have ever seen at that position. The thought of moving to another spot might both some, but he sounded excited.
After the draft ended three more Marshall players signed free agent deals – Denero Marriott with Philadelphia, Steve Perretta with the NEw York Jets and Yancey Satterwhite with the Browns. Curtis Head also signed a deal with British Columbia of the Canadian League. All three of them deserve a shot and will most likely make those teams.
For me, the draft was a bitter-sweet day. I have worked with these guys for four years and have an outstanding relationship with each of them. I am proud of them all but, at the same time, I hate to see them leave.
Most people know that I have a very close relationship with Byron. You can’t spend as much time with someone as we did the last two years and not develop a close friendship. I know he is going to do well in Jacksonville, because that is the only way he knows how to do anything.
In the years I have either covered college football or worked in sports information there have been numerous players that I have worked with who have gone on to success in the NFL. I follow all of them on a weekly basis during the season and try to stay in touch with as many as I can.
The one thing I have never done is became a fan of any particular team. Even when I was a kid I never got too attached to one team, although I did like watching Bert Jones throw passes to Roger Carr with the Colts back in Baltimore.
All that changed on Saturday. I now have a favorite NFL team that I will cheer for in the coming years. In fact, my new Jacksonville Jaguars hat and t-shirt should be in the mail soon.
With all respect to Chad Pennington, who I saw Friday at the Mets game and will always cheer for, come November 23 at the Meadowlands, I will be cheering for only one team. Go Jags!