Derek Landri sat at his house in Concord, Calif., surrounded by friends on the second day of this year's NFL draft, waiting for his name to be called. It was going to be a special day for the defensive tackle as he was hoping to realize his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
It suddenly became a lot sweeter when the Jacksonville Jaguars called to say they were selecting him with a fifth-round pick. The Jaguars also employed one of Landri's best friends from high school, running back Maurice Jones-Drew. The duo won two consecutive national championships as teammates at De La Salle High School, an all-male school in Concord with an enrollment of 900.
Several hours later, Jones-Drew stopped by to welcome his friend to the NFL.
"It was exciting," Landri said. "You achieve your lifelong dream and you have one of your best friends there. A guy you love and you respect more than anything. You are able to rekindle that high school spirit that really you can only achieve at that high school. It's awesome to bring that out here."
Landri and Jones-Drew had stayed in contact since their high school days as Landri went off to play at Notre Dame and Jones-Drew stayed nearby at UCLA. It's a tradition at De La Salle for former players to return to their roots and work out with their former teammates in the summer. Landri and Jones-Drew had been working out together in Berkeley, Calif., leading up to the draft under the supervision of a former high school strength coach.
The two almost met in college as Notre Dame and UCLA played each other in 2006, but Jones-Drew was already setting records in the NFL after declaring early for the draft.
"He was scared to play us," Landri said.
Landri was a three-year starter at Notre Dame as a defensive tackle, finishing his career with 34.5 tackles for loss including a team-high 15.5 as a senior. While Landri was finishing his career for the Fighting Irish in 2006, he kept a close eye on Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew led all rookies in 2006 with 16 touchdowns and ranked third in NFL history by a rookie with 2,250 all-purpose yards. He formed one of the NFL's top running back duos with veteran Fred Taylor as they helped the Jaguars set a franchise record for rushing yards.
None of this came as a surprise to Landri. He lined up as both a defensive tackle and offensive tackle in high school and he remembers Jones-Drew doing the same thing to opposing defenses.
"It was fun," Landri said. "The best thing about Maurice is he's not cocky, but he lets you know. It's in good fun. That is what makes him special, his ability to enjoy the moment. In the moment, he can still handle things, take care of business and still enjoy it. That is real rare. For some people, you get caught up in the moment and you lose yourself and your teammates. He eats it up and then the next play he runs for another sixty-yard touchdown."
Jones-Drew said Landri played a major role at left tackle when he started at running back as a junior, rushing for more than 800 yards. Landri became only the third De La Salle player to ever receive California Player of the Year honors, joining D.J. Williams (1999) and Amani Toomer (1991).
When Landri arrived in Jacksonville for the club's minicamp, Jones-Drew took him under his wing. Landri is a guest at his former teammates' house and is getting an introduction to the city
"I am always going to take care of my offensive linemen, no matter what age," Jones-Drew said. "They have helped me get where I am. He doesn't have to go through not knowing anyone. I have been showing him good places to eat so when he gets a chance to get on his own he will already know the city."