Representing Dunbar High with a maroon suit and maroon tie, Tavon Austin strolled into Radio City Music Hall around 7 p.m. Thursday night to see his lifelong dream fulfilled.
At 7:34 p.m., he and 22 other top prospects were introduced to the crowd. Each towered over him.
Austin then retreated to the green room, downed a bag of potato chips and watched the draft unfold, his legs shaking the whole time, with a group of family and friends, including his mother, Cathy Green, and grandmother, Louann Green.
At 9:04 p.m., his phone started ringing and the most productive running back in Maryland prep history found out that he was about to become the latest local player to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
Austin was selected eighth overall by the St. Louis Rams, who made a trade with the Buffalo Bills to draft him in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft
“This is definitely one of the best feelings in the world,” Austin said in a phone interview late Thursday night. “It's something I've been dreaming about since I was a little kid. It's all I wanted. I'm ready to get to work.”
The Rams, who lost wide receiver Danny Amendola in free agency, had shown strong interest in Austin throughout the draft process, including a private workout on West Virginia's campus last week.
Austin feels that the Rams, who are quarterbacked by former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford and coached by Jeff Fisher, are a good fit for his unique skill set.
“I'm ready to go up there and help that wide-receiving corps out,” said Austin, who already has been communicating with second-year Rams receiver Chris Givens.
To acquire the eighth pick and select Austin, the Rams traded the 16th overall pick, along with a second-round pick and a seventh-round pick, to the Bills. The teams also swapped third-round picks.
Despite concerns about his small stature and rumors about a low Wonderlic score, the 5-foot-8, 174-pound playmaker was the first wide receiver and the first offensive skill player to be selected.
While he is undersized, many draft analysts expect him to have a big effect in the NFL. He has been compared favorably to standout slot receivers such as Denver's Wes Welker and Seattle's Percy Harvin.
“I think he's really good,” SiriusXM NFL analyst Gil Brandt, a former executive with the Dallas Cowboys, said before the draft. “It's hard for a guy his size to line up and play every down, but I think he will be a player somewhat like [New Orleans running back] Darren Sproles that makes a tremendous impact on the game even though he only plays about 50 percent of the plays. I think he is a very tough, tough mismatch for defenses because wherever you line him up, his speed creates a problem. … I think he will help a team a great deal.”
Austin joins Aaron Maybin (Mount Hebron), 11th overall in 2009; Bryant Johnson (City), 17th overall in 2003; Mike Pitts (Poly), 16th overall in 1983; Brian Jozwiak (Catonsville), seventh overall in 1986; and other Baltimore-area products who went in the first round of the NFL draft.
“It means a lot,” he said about representing Baltimore. “But this is just the beginning for me.”
In his four seasons at Dunbar, Austin set Maryland state prep records in total yards (9,258), rushing yards (7,962), total touchdowns (123) and points (790). He also carried the Poets to three consecutive Class 1A state titles.
Austin spurned scholarship offers from Maryland and other Division I schools to play at West Virginia.
After playing sparingly as a freshman, Austin caught 58 passes for 787 yards and eight touchdowns in his sophomore year. But his career really took off when Dana Holgorsen became West Virginia's head coach in 2011 and brought his wide-open Air Raid offense to Morgantown.
As a junior, Austin caught 101 passes for 1,186 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
In 2012, his senior season, Austin tied teammate Stedman Bailey for second in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind USC's Marqise Lee with 114 receptions in 13 games. Austin finished with 1,289 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns in 2012. He also rushed for 643 yards and three touchdowns, including 344 yards on 21 carries when he played running back in a 50-49 win over Oklahoma.
During his West Virginia career, Austin piled up 288 catches for 3,413 yards and 29 touchdowns, along with 1,033 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. He scored 40 total touchdowns as a receiver, rusher and returner.
“He's a phenomenal player. I saw him in high school here at Dunbar in Baltimore, and he was outstanding. He was a man among boys. He's just tremendously electrifying, great quickness,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said before the draft, adding, “He's great kid, very businesslike in his approach, serious about his business.”
The Ravens showed interest in Austin, but he was selected 24 picks before they were scheduled to be on the clock at pick No. 32.
Austin will fly to St. Louis this morning and meet with Rams coaches and team officials. He also will be formally introduced to the St. Louis media.
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