The wait was longer than expected, but Darqueze Dennard ended the drought in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
It has been since 2003, when wide receiver Charles Rogers was picked by the Lions, that a Spartan heard his name called in the first round, but Dennard was picked by the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 24 this year.
"It was just a relief actually getting the call," Dennard said on a teleconference Thursday night. "It was a great feeling to know where you're going to go at and go have a chance to play football."
The Bengals had been a part of the NFL pre-draft process for Dennard, as he met with them at the NFL Combine and talked with them at the Michigan State pro day. He took a visit to Cincinnati, but the slide to No. 24 was unexpected as many mock drafts had Dennard as high as No. 10 the Detroit Lions, but as night went on, his name still had yet to be called. Family and friends gathered in Macon, Ga., kept the mood light with dancing and jokes. But while his friends might have been a little bothered by a couple picks, Dennard said it was not tough to stay balanced.
"I didn't pay attention to the mock drafts or anything," Dennard said. "Whatever situation that God put in play, it was planned. It was already written and His plan is better than mine. Wherever I landed, that's where I'm supposed to be at."
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio also sent him a text saying "Be cool, be composed and be the rock for your family."
Two picks after getting the text, the Bengals quickly took in the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner and consensus All-American around a minute into their allotted time. He will join a team that already features four former first-round picks at cornerback, Leon Hall, Terrence Newman, Adam Jones and last year's first-rounder, Dre Kirkpatrick. With three veterans to learn from, Dennard is eager to learn from experienced soon-to-be teammates.
"I think I bring a younger body into a veteran group of defensive backs," he said. "When I get there, I'll be a sponge and soak up all the wisdom and knowledge those guys have. There are guys there that were first-round draft picks so they all know the burdens it brings and the pressure it is to perform."
He also is joining a team that has been competitive in recent years in the AFC North, having made the playoffs four of the past five seasons.
"I'm joining a great team," Dennard said. "They have made the playoffs the last three years and have all the tools to fight for a Super Bowl."
Dantonio had little doubt about what the Bengals will be getting in his first first-round pick as Michigan State's head coach.
"He's an outstanding player, but the intangibles are what sends him over the top," Dantonio said. "There have been very, very few players I have coached in 30-plus years of coaching that measure up to Darqueze Dennard."
Dantonio praised Dennard for his work ethic and noted he has been around the Michigan State program since the pro day in March and has been at 5:30 a.m. workouts with the team since then.
"That's what an all-pro has to do and there will come a time where he will be an all-pro in the NFL – write it down – because of the work ethic and the standards he holds to be true," Dantonio said.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock was an immediate fan of the Bengals pick, saying he did not think the Bengals expected him to be available for them to select.
"He's the best pure press corner in this draft," Mayock said. "Paul Guenther, the defensive coordinator for Cincinnati, I think was excited to get him. He fits what Coach Guenther wants to do. He tackles. He's tough.
"That's one of the best pure football players in this draft."
Dennard was the third cornerback picked in the draft. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert the first cornerback selected, going No. 8 overall to the Cleveland Browns, and the Chicago Bears selected Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the No. 14 pick.
He finished his career at Michigan State with 167 tackles and 30 passes defended, including 10 interceptions.