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View from the O-Zone: Happy ending, new beginning


JACKSONVILLE – Myles Jack couldn't emphasize it enough.

So, late Saturday morning – after a long flight that followed a really long week that followed a long couple of months – the Jaguars' newest linebacker emphasized it again.

His ordeal?

His well-documented, much-tweeted, televised NFL Draft drama?

In a sense it was all worth it. Because in a very real sense it meant being drafted by the Jaguars. And that's what he wanted all along.

"It's crazy, but it's like I've been saying: this is honestly the place I wanted to be," Jack told local media shortly before Day 3 of the 2016 NFL Draft began Saturday at noon.

And you know what?

Watching Jack at a podium inside EverBank Field Saturday, listening to him talk again about what he had endured, you believed him.

That smile? It was real.

That relief about which he spoke? That was real, too.

This looked like someone who had been through the toughest period of a young, talented life and come through to a safe place, a good place. He looked like that because that's what happened.

Consider: while Jaguars fans were breaking Twitter and singing Hallelujah choruses Friday night – and while Jaguars executives and coaches couldn't believe the good fortune of perhaps drafting not only the best defensive player in the NFL Draft (Jalen Ramsey) but turning around and drafting the other best defensive player the following night (Jack) – what Jack was going through was real.

Life-changing real. Career-altering real. Dream-crushing real.

The knee issue we all followed and speculated about for weeks until it reached a feverish, Twitter-fueled climax this week was Jack's life, his dreams and his future.

He watched it all happen, and what he watched was largely out of his control. He had done all he could do, posting video of himself dunking a basketball this week – this after his agent posted a football-oriented workout earlier in the month. It was video evidence of Jack's contention that his knee was fine – and it all showed him doing all of the special athletic things that had many analysts believing him an absolute Top 5 selection before the knee stuff became such a huge thing in the last week and a half.

And then suddenly, his stock was falling.

At first, it was speculation. And then it was draft-night reality as Jack – whose speed, athleticism and pass coverage ability is considered once-a-generation at his position – slipped past No. 5 to 10 to 15 and all the way out of Round 1.

So, yeah, he opted not to return to the NFL's draft green room for Round 2 Friday. And yeah, he opted not to go through the emotion in front of the cameras again. He opted to stay at the Trump Tower with his family and make it a more personal thing.

Can you blame him?

Not if you have heart, and that heart couldn't help feel good for Jack Saturday morning. There he was, at last, with his new team at the traditional introductory press conference.

Yeah, it was a day late. But it was happening. The NFL dream was real, and for Jack, it was really truly the dream he wanted.

"I was telling everybody before the draft, 'If I could choose a place to come it could be Jacksonville,''' Jack said, adding of his pre-draft ordeal, "At the end of the day, if it got me to end up here where I wanted to be, I'm cool with that. It's a great fit, so I'm cool with it."

That was because of a pre-draft visit to Jacksonville, and it was because of Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, who Jack referred to Saturday as "the head man."

"He's an honorable man," Jack said. "Me and him connected real quick. I felt like I could trust him. Where the program is heading, I felt like it's a great place to be a part of."

There was more to Jack's first day at EverBank Field. He spoke of having connected with Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars draft selections from UCLA a decade ago who have reached out to him.

"They said I'm falling into a great situation," he said.

But all of Saturday's storylines – his fit in the defense, his versatility, how he is a better blitzer than he showed in college … they all felt sort secondary Saturday, like stories for another day. For Saturday, it was just cool to see Jack talking football, having the day for which he had waited and worked and which seemed so far away Thursday night.

"I'm a football player, man," he said. "I'm not here for all of the flash and dash. At the end of the day, I want to put that helmet on and play ball. That process is long. It's a once in a lifetime process and I appreciate it, but I'm glad it's over with. I'm ready to ball."

He smiled as he said it, the genuine real smile of someone where he really wanted to be.

At last.

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