Draft Day can be a roller coaster ride

Around this time of year, college seniors are becoming very anxious about their future. In less than a month many will graduate and move onto professional careers. In just a couple days, 255 college football players will learn their next destination in the NFL. The week of the draft is filled with highs and lows, surprises and letdowns, promises and lies.

Will you be a top ten pick, will somebody trade up to get you, what city are you going to start your career in? There is so much uncertainty that you have to wonder how these college athletes handle this period of time.

"It was extremely stressful," Rex Grossman said of his draft day experience. "Not too many people really know how stressful it is not knowing where you're going to be drafted, where you're going to live, how much money you're going to make, the situation; what players are at that team that you're competing with. It's just an extremely stressful but yet at the same time the most exciting, fun day of your life for me so far."

While Grossman had the luxury of knowing he would be a first-round pick, linebacker Joe Odom felt he would be drafted, but in what round was a different story. During the draft weekend his cell phone kept ringing, although it took awhile for his name to be called at the podium.

"People call you and say they're going to pick you in this round," Odom said. "A couple times it didn't go well for me and somebody called and said we're going to pick this guy first and we're going to try and get you in the next round."

Things have worked out for Odom as the Bears took him in the sixth-round and he's now the leading candidate to start at strong side linebacker, but at the time leaving Purdue meant uncertainty.

"It's one of the most stressful times in your life, not knowing where your destiny is going to end up," Odom said. "You can be anywhere from Seattle to Miami. You've got to take it in as it is as an opportunity to play at the next level in the NFL. I think with anybody it doesn't matter where you end up, you are going to be happy just to have an opportunity to be on a team and make a team."

It's not just the players that feel the pressure. The scouting department has a year's worth of work culminate with the draft. Scouts and coaches have spent over a year establishing their draft boards and deliberating on what position and which athlete would fit their team for years to come. All homework must be done on players and no stone goes unturned, which is a lesson Charles Tillman learned last year.

The Cleveland Browns have a former secret service agent checking into the background of their potential draftees. The list of people interviewed about Tillman included coaches and teammates from Louisiana-Lafayette, the school librarian and the university President.

"Yeah, got to," said Bears director of scouting, Greg Gabriel, on having to look into a player's background. " We've got a way of doing things. We do a thorough check. We put a lot on our scouts to find out background and character and football character. Our guys, they'll go back and talk to high school coaches, employers, neighbors. If there's some dirt and you want to find out about the dirt, then you go back and you find out. Then you say, OK, has he grown. Is he going to be a problem?"

It has been five years since Marty Booker had to go through this process, but the Bears top wideout remembers the experience vividly. The six-foot receiver from Northeast Louisiana had mixed emotions before being selected by Chicago in the third-round.

"It was the worst," Booker said. "The draft is so unpredictable you don't know what's going to happen. If you let it worry you and stress you out it's no good, but the main thing is just to stay relaxed no matter what happens. I got myself uptight after the first two rounds went by, I started watching the Lakers basketball game to kind of calm me down and next thing you know I end up getting that phone call."

Do players become interested in watching every round of the draft?

"It was tough I tried not to," Odom said. "You want to see how goes before you and what people in your position go, because that kind of gives you an idea of where you're going to go. It's hard not to watch, some people don't, for me I had to watch I think it was just one of those things where you want to know where all your friends are going that you grew up with or played with."

But all the discussions and promises will soon go away once the match is completed. Just like finding a spouse, the teams and the players somehow come together on this April weekend and the players are thrilled to have a new home and a fresh set of teammates. The team, on the other hand, is hopeful that they have found a bright young talent that they can teach, mold and depend on. After all the anxiety and stress, hearing your name announced on national TV makes it all worth the wait.

"I was in total shock," Booker said. "I think the most shocking part about it is you don't know what team it's going to be and the next thing I hear is congratulations you are a Chicago Bear. It was shocking and everything, but it is just a blessing to even be drafted."

Regardless of what round the college players make their leap into the NFL, by the end of the weekend the nerve-wracking fears and worries will finally be over. All the private workouts, combine times and draft predictions will be put to rest for another year. The opportunity to be a professional athlete has arrived.


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