But those were tears of joy, because Sunday, April 26, 2009, most assuredly will go down as a banner day for LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Stephens-Howling turned 22, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in administration of justice and was taken by the Arizona Cardinals with the 240th overall pick in the seventh round during the NFL Draft.
"It's been a rough day,'' Stephens-Howling said, "but it's all worth it now. ... I came (to Arizona) on a visit, and they told me that I was one of just a few guys that they brought in. So, I felt like they were very interested in me, and I felt very comfortable that the coaches believed I was somebody who could do something for them. So, I felt good about the Cardinals the whole way.
"I was told the whole time that I could go from the sixth round to free agent. I just tried to relax as much as I could and take my mind off it. Seattle and Arizona called me about being a free agent before I got drafted, so I was thinking I was only going to be a free agent.
"(But) I was just getting antsy,'' he added. "I had to leave the house and play catch for a little bit with my (5-year-old) nephew when the Cardinals called. (But) it's a great feeling. ... We just celebrated mine (pick), then saw (former Pitt player) Rashad (Jennings). I felt good for him, and then we saw Derek Kinder. It was great to see guys you know get a chance.''
Stephens-Howling joins former Panthers wideout Larry Fitzgerald and linebacker Gerald Hayes on the Cardinals' roster.
"It's a great thing for Pitt to have other guys in Arizona, too, and I just want to learn from them,'' Stephens-Howling said. "I want to learn what it takes to be part of that team and learn more about life out there.''
Stephens-Howling started 16 times in his 44-game Pitt career, and he ran for nearly 2,000 yards with 15 touchdowns. He also caught more than 50 passes for one score and had a 95-yard kickoff return as well. Stephens-Howling did not return punts, but he practiced it some to enhance his status. It worked.
"LaRod, I'm telling you, can do a lot of things for an NFL team,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He can return kicks, and he played on all our coverage (special) teams. He's real fast, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's a very versatile back, and I think he'll do well if he gets into a camp.''
And that's all Stephens-Howling wanted was an opportunity.
"They said they would give me a look as a returner and a gunner on punt- and kick-coverage teams, which I'm more than willing to do special teams,'' Stephens-Howling said. "It definitely was tough for me at Pitt, after being a starter, when LeSean came in for my last two years.
"(But) if I didn't love this game, I could have sat back on the sideline, pouting and watching my time at Pitt go by. So, I just appreciate my family and all the support I got to keep me working and let me know that I could do it at the next level. ... But this has been a dream all of my life.
"I've always been told that I couldn't do it because of my size,'' he added, "but I just can't wait to come in to do whatever I can to make this team.''
Stephens-Howling leaves for Arizona Thursday for that first opportunity.
LaRod Jets To Arizona
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