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The launching point

Posted Apr 24, 2012

For Jaguars players, draft-day memories remain strong – and important

Three years later, the memory remains fresh.

Eugene Monroe likes it that way. He cherishes the 2009 NFL Draft, and to ensure he remembers vividly, a picture from that day hangs on the bedroom wall of him and his wife, Nureya.

“I look at it every day,” Monroe said Monday.

The 2012 NFL Draft will take place Thursday through Saturday, and for different current Jaguars players, draft memories mean different things. For Monroe, the memory is about a special day – and about a theme that remains strong three years later.

“I didn’t look at it as an accomplishment,” Monroe said “I looked at it as the start of an opportunity to do something great. It was an opportunity.”

The Jaguars’ current roster features 25 players selected by the team, and barring trades, there will be seven more drafted players on the roster by the end of the weekend.

Each drafted player has his own draft day story, and often it’s a story that mixes a feeling of accomplishment with knowing there is much left to be done.

It’s also a day about waiting and nerves, which is true whether the player is in New York at the request of the NFL – as was the case with Monroe – or at home. The latter was the case with D’Anthony Smith, a 2010 third-round selection from Louisiana Tech.

“I took it like a normal day,” Smith said. “It’s not really in your hands. You’ve done all you can do going up to that point. I pretty much just laid back, and let my film and what I had done on the field work for me.”

Smith said he got about 15 calls from teams as the second round ended.

 “They were asking, “Did anyone call?’’’ Smith said, laughing. “I was like, sure, someone called. A lot of people have called.”

Smith said that’s what the day is like a lot of times for someone outside the first round. The phone rings a lot. Sometimes it’s friends. A lot of times it’s teams calling to try to gauge interest from other teams in the player.

“It’s gut-wrenching,” Smith said, “and at the same time, you’re supposed to be calm about it. You’re excited when you get the call, but before the call, you’re nervous as all get out.”

A prospect has a couple of choices, Smith said. Let the anxiety overwhelm him, or figure some way to relax on a day or days on which relaxing is counterintuitive.

“You just have to sit back and embrace your situation,” Smith said.

Tyson Alualu took the latter approach. By the time the 2010 NFL Draft arrived, many NFL insiders had come to believe Alualu would be a first-round selection. That was the whisper in a lot of NFL Draft rooms. But many mock drafts had Alualu lower, and he wasn’t invited to New York City.

That was fine with Alualu. He instead attended a Church function at his home in Hawaii.

He said he started the day with his cell phone by his side watching the draft on television. Soon enough, he was playing volleyball and doing whatever else he could do to take his mind off the draft. When the Jaguars called, he didn’t know Jacksonville was on the clock and “I thought it was one of those checkup calls.”

It wasn’t.

“It was a very emotional experience that I got to experience with my whole family,” he said. “It was just a blessed day. It’s definitely a day you’ve been waiting for pretty much your whole life. Ever since I’d started playing football I’d dreamed of being in the NFL. For it to be that close to being reality was just a blessing. It was a blessing to have that opportunity.”

Alualu said that’s how he viewed the day, and that while it was indeed a blessing, it was more about the future than the past. Monroe said he viewed his draft day the same.

Monroe, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, was already something of a veteran of the draft experience by the time his draft day happened. He had been to New York the year before to share the experience with University of Virginia teammate and friend Chris Long.

Monroe said he left New York following the 2008 draft knowing he’d be back, and driven by the idea of fulfilling that goal. Once back in New York as an invitee, he said the experience was unique.

 “It was almost like game day,” he said. “Some people are nervous and some people are excited. One kid’s name is called and the family on the other side of the room is disappointed. It’s just an intense, emotional affair, but everyone knew, too, if you were in that room, you’d put in some work.”

The phone rang for Monroe relatively early. Shortly thereafter, he was posing for a picture that three years later is more than a picture of a memory that is a bit more than that, too.

 “It’s a reminder that you have to keep pushing,” Monroe said. “After getting injured in college, and getting healthy, then getting hurt again – and dealing with adverse situations – it was a defining moment. It was a start, but the work’s never done. As soon as you get drafted, you’re in a new situation. You’re learning all over again and playing a different game. It’s a launching point.”

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