BOZICH | Strong Thrilled For Louisville's Historic 3 First-Round NFL Picks
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Charlie Strong watched the selections arrive in the first round of the NFL Draft with as much uneasy curiosity as all those fans who paint their faces and pull on team jerseys.
Then the historic run began – three University of Louisville football players taken in the final 15 picks of Round One.
Calvin Pryor, No. 18 to the New York Jets – ahead of Mr. All-American safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama.
“I wasn't surprised,” Strong said. “Calvin is such an explosive player. He’s got such great range and balance.”
Marcus Smith, No. 26 to the Philadelphia Eagles – maybe a dozen spots earlier than the wise guys said Smith would be selected.
“That wasn't a reach,” Strong said. “Marcus is the perfect guy to play on the edge in the 3-4 defense. He’s very hard to block and he’s just coming into his own as a player.”
Finally, the exclamation point – Teddy Bridgewater, No. 32 to the Minnesota Vikings, a franchise that showed how much it wanted Bridgewater by trading a pair of picks to Seattle so the Vikings could make the selection.
“When I saw Teddy go up on the stage my reaction was just, ‘Wow,’ " said Strong.
That’s an understandable reaction from Strong, now the head coach at Texas. Two of those guys – Pryor and Smith – were former 3-star recruits who played mostly quarterback in high school.
Great scouting. Great projection. Great player development by Strong and his staff.
“I called all three of those young men to congratulate them because I know how far they’ve come and how hard they’ve worked,” Strong said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am for them.
“I’m happy for the program and I’m happy for the fans of the University of Louisville. They should be very proud. Three of those jokers in one round? You don’t see that very often.”
You didn’t see it Thursday night from Florida State, which won the national title.
Or from Alabama, even though Bama coach Nick Saban was on the scene at Radio City Music Hall.
Or from Notre Dame, Auburn, Louisiana State, Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma or Oregon.
The only other school with three first-round picks was Texas A&M.
Think about this: Louisville had only produced three first-round picks in the previous 20 seasons – Joe Johnson, 1994; Amobi Okoye, 2007; and Eric Wood, 2009.
“First, it’s a credit to those three guys because of all the work they put in,” Strong said. “It’s a credit to the training staff and the assistant coaches. And it’s a credit to the program. You just look it and go, ‘Wow.’ "
Strong said he was not concerned that Bridgewater slipped to the final pick of the first round and was the third quarterback taken – behind Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.
“Teddy will be fine,” Strong said. “He’s going to a good place. He handled it the right way. He showed everybody what he could do at Louisville. He showed that he could handle adversity.”
Strong still remembers the first tip he received about recruiting Pryor. One of his friends from Florida, an orthopedic surgeon in Tallahassee, told him there was a quarterback in Port St. Joe that he needed to scout.
Strong sent an assistant coach, who returned with a glowing report. Strong watched Pryor play basketball twice – and was sold.
“I could just tell Calvin was an athlete,” Strong said. “I was impressed. He’s a great safety. He probably could have been a linebacker.
“In fact, that was my nickname for him – Linebacker. He was always trying to play close to the line of scrimmage I had to yell, ‘Hey, Linebacker, get back in the secondary.’ “
The memories of those days made Strong laugh. But nothing made him laugh with as much joy as his memories of the first game Smith played linebacker at Louisville.
Marcus Smith was part of Strong’s first recruiting class in 2010, arriving at U of L one year ahead of Bridgewater and Pryor. He was a high school quarterback from Columbus, Ga. After a week of practice, Strong told Smith that if he wanted to play immediately there was a spot open for him at defensive end.
Smith took it – and then took his lumps, long before Smith led the nation in sacks last season.
“There was that play (in the second quarter) against Kentucky when we told Marcus to stay out there on the boundary and he just stood there and watched Randall Cobb go about 50 yards (actually 51) for a touchdown,” Strong said. “He just stood there and watched.”
Thursday night it was Charlie Strong who sat there and watched as one, two, three of his former University of Louisville football players were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.
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