Let the wait begin

Posted Apr 21, 2010

For those players not selected in the first round, the NFL draft can be an exercise in patience. Just ask Sean Locklear, Will Herring and especially Matt Hasselbeck

Sean Locklear spent his draft day with family and friends

The start of the first three-day draft in NFL history is just hours away. It’s an exciting time for those players waiting to hear their names called in the first round.

But what about the players who won’t get selected until the later rounds? Change exciting to a combination of excruciating that ultimately turned to exhilarating.

That was the situation for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, tackle Sean Locklear and linebacker Will Herring. These current Seahawks were drafted in the later rounds – Hasselbeck in the sixth round in 1998, by the Green Bay Packers; Locklear in the third round in 2004; Herring in the fifth round in 2007.

Rather than spend Draft Day in New York City, as guests of the NFL and possible Top 10 picks, this trio stayed home. And waited for the phone to ring.

“It was a long day,” said Locklear, a starter since 2005. “I was told I’d probably go anywhere from second to third round. Time wasn’t going by fast enough, but I figured what’s the rush?”

Locklear shared the experience with his mother, other family members and friends at a hotel suite in North Carolina. While waiting to hear his name called, he lived vicariously through North Carolina State teammates and other players he met at all-star games and the NFL scouting combine.

Despite the hurry-up-and-wait atmosphere, everything was copasetic until the Dallas Cowboys selected Stephen Peterman with the 83rd pick overall. Other linemen had been drafted before Locklear, but he considered himself better than the LSU guard.

“Before I had time to even get mad, my phone rings and I got drafted with the very next pick,” he said.

That call included a pause, so Locklear could hear his name called on ESPN.

“It is cool to hear your name and then see it flash across the screen,” he said. “Then it set in: I’m going from North Carolina all the way to Seattle. I was shocked.”

Herring wasn’t rated as highly as Locklear. So his wait was longer, which only made his selection more satisfying.

“There was a lot of anticipation, just wondering where you might spend the next few years of your life,” said Herring, a versatile backup linebacker and special teams standout. “And I was rated as a late-round/free-agent guy, so there was just a lot of uncertainty.”

Linebacker Will Herring

Herring spent draft weekend at his parents’ home in Alabama, with them, his then-fiancée and now-wife, Ashley; and a couple of close friends. So when the call came in the fifth round, well …

“It was just unbelievable excitement,” Herring said. “We went nuts, because it’s a dream come true. It was one of the moments of my life I’ll never forget. For a kid who grows up dreaming about playing professional football, it was a dream that became a reality.

“It almost didn’t seem real for a while.”

Oddly enough, a few of Herring’s teammates at Auburn had kidded him about being drafted by Seattle – the NFL franchise that is the farthest from the SEC school.

“Here I am, four years later and loving it,” he said.

The most elaborate draft-day tale came, not surprisingly, from Hasselbeck. And it was typical Hasselbeck. Entertaining, self-deprecating and detailed.

Hasselbeck actually provided this response in 2008 (to this reporter for The Sporting News). But it’s definitely worth repeating, in all its rambling grandeur:

“I was at home – for the entire weekend. I was not invited to New York City, for some reason. Saturday was very uneventful. Nothing against Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, but I didn’t really do much that day. I wasn’t expecting to get drafted. In fact that’s the advice my dad (Don, a former NFL tight end) gave me. He said, ‘Listen, if you expect to get drafted and you don’t, you’re going to be really disappointed. They’re saying you probably won’t get drafted. So go into it with that mentality. Then, if something miraculous happens, it’s a blessing.’

“So the day was spent at my house (in Westwood, Mass.) going through old photo albums and playing pickup basketball in the driveway with my brothers and my friends.

“The next day, somewhere around the fifth-, sixth-round round timeframe, I started to get a couple of phone calls. The Eagles, I think Sean Payton, called. Matt Cavanaugh from Bears called. Don Strock of the Baltimore Ravens called. But they were recruiting me. It was like, ‘Hey, I really want to draft you with our seventh-round pick. But they’re not going to let me. So, if you don’t get drafted – and we expect that you might not – Chicago’s the place to come; or Philly’s the place to come; or Baltimore’s the place to come. There’s an opportunity here.’

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck

“The calls from the Eagles, Ravens and Packers all came about the same time. This was when call-waiting had just come out, so I could see who was calling. So I’m on the phone with Don Strock in Baltimore and he says, ‘Hey, we’re not going to draft you, guy, but we’d be interested in you as a free agent.’ I’m like, ‘OK, but the Eagles are calling. So, see ya.’ I clicked over, and I believe it was Sean Payton with the Eagles. He was like, ‘Hey, you know, whatever, this and that.’ Then I’m like, ‘Sorry, coach, but someone else is beeping in.’ It was a 920 number. It turned out to be the Green Bay Packers. It was Danny Mock, the scout who had picked me up at the airport when I took a physical for the Packers. He said, ‘Hold on, there’s someone here who wants to talk to you.’ It was Andy Reid, the quarterbacks coach. He said, ‘Hey, how you doing? Anybody call you today?’ I said, ‘Ah, not really.’ Then he says, ‘We’re about to make a pick here in the sixth round. Tell me what you think about it.’ I’m on my cordless, watching ESPN and it’s flashing down at the bottom of the screen – Green Bay Packer’s pick; 187, I think. It shows my name and everyone in my house just starts screaming and going nuts. I throw the phone. We’re just jumping up and down and celebrating like we just won a game. Then I’m like frantically looking for the phone. Luckily, Andy hadn’t hung up.

“Then, I was on the phone for like an hour – talking to Andy, who passed me to Bill Nayes, who passed me to their travel agent to make my flights for the minicamp; then she transferred me over to Jeff Blumb, who transferred me over the Green Bay media. By the time I was done, and I’d been on the porch, I come back inside the house and everyone in my family and my friends are wearing Packers T-shirts and hats. They went to the mall and bought out whatever Packers gear was there. Then we went out and proceeded to play a front-yard football game. By that time two of the local television stations stopped by. They had been covering the Patriots’ draft, and I lived like 20 minutes from Foxboro Stadium. On their way home they swung by the house and got a couple of sound bites. Hopefully they burned that footage.

“Nothing crazy, but it was a cool experience. The Packers were just a team to me, then they became my team, so to speak. Four days later, we all owned a Cheesehead. We were full-blown green-and-gold, all the way.”

Until 2001, when Hasselbeck and the Packers’ first-round pick (which became All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson) were traded to the Seahawks for first- and third-round picks.