MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The first two days of the NFL are for the blue bloods.
The third day is for the blue collars, like the players of West Virginia.
As this year’s draft started WVU was being predicted to have two players selected — defensive lineman Darius Stills and linebacker Tony Fields II, each an All-Big 12 selection.
Both are blue collar workers who were expected to go from the fourth round through the seventh rounds, or Saturday, in the NFL draft.
Some might look down on that and certainly it lessens their chances of sticking, but over the years Mountaineer players have proved themselves capable not only of making teams as lower-round draft selections, but making careers out of it.
Sometimes, even, they became stars … All-Pros and players capable of making big-time plays at big-time moments.
Ask Marc Bulger, the record-setting Mountaineer quarterback who first had to prove himself on the college level, many thinking he was too slight for big-time football, then on the NFL level where he lasted until the sixth round of the draft, was picked by New Orleans and cut.
“I think just about everyone had a low-round grade on him. Obviously, I think now that just about everyone screwed up. It happens,” an anonymous scout was quoted as saying a few years after the draft.
Bulger was the 166th pick of the draft and then went on to earn two Pro Bowl honors for the St. Louis Rams. He finished with 22,814 passing yards and 122 NFL touchdown passes, twice playing in the NFL playoffs.
As late as Bulger went in that 2000 draft, he was selected before another quarterback who would help show it was possible to rise up from being picked near the bottom. That quarterback was Tom Brady.
The West Virginia began with Harry “Flash” Clarke, a WVU Hall of Fame player, from the World War II days, being a 13th round afterthought in 1940. A running back and defensive back from the days of players playing both ways, Clarke was a star on George Halas’ Monsters of the Midway Bears team, earning three championship rings while playing in two Pro Bowls and once being named All-Pro.
Clarke capped his rookie season off memorably as he scored two touchdowns in the Bears’ incredible 73-0 NFL Championship Game victory over the Washington Redskins.
To survive in the NFL after being a low pick requires one trait for certain — toughness. And no one displayed that more than Tom Woodeshick, a WVU fullback who was drafted in the 8th round by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1963. The best display of Woodeshick’s toughness came the historic final game of the 1968 season, the game in which the Eagles’ fans gained infamy by throwing snowballs at Santa Claus.
As tough as Santa was under the bombardment, Woodeshick was tougher as his face mask was broken off and the jagged end of it opened a gash over his eye.
As the doctor stitched him on the sidelines, Woodeshick begged to go back in the game but the doctor refused, telling him he could lose the eye, which seemed to make no impact on him.
Oh, by the way, it was the final game of a 2-12 season, which lets you know Woodeshick’s makeup.
If Woodeshick provided toughness as a late pick, wide receiver/kick returner Fulton Walker provided thrills. He turned a sixth-round selection into a six-year career that was most memorable because in 1982 he became the first man to run a kickoff back for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, going 98 yards for Miami in a 27-17 loss to Washington.
This was nothing unusual for him, though as he led the NFL in kickoff-return average (26.7 yards) in 1983 and in punt return yards (692) in 1985.
Tom Pridemore, an 11th-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1978, gave the NFL a peek into the future at WVU when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in 1977, setting the school record, then returned one 101 yards against the San Francisco 49ers in 1981.
What all this says is that first round or seventh round, the idea with the draft is to get your foot in the door. From there you make your own way in the NFL, so you have to approach it not as a disappointment if you go low, but an opportunity for your career is just starting and will be what you make it.
Following is a list of selected WVU players who were selected from the fourth round of the NFL draft on down who not only made rosters, but played at least 10 or more games in the NFL.
2020 — Colton McKivitz, 5th round, 153rd pick, San Francisco, 14 games
2019 — David Long, 6th round, 188th pick, Tennessee, 28 games
2019 — Trevon Wesco, 4th round, 121st pick, Jets, 28 games
2018 — Kyzir White, 4th round, 119th pick, Chargers, 30 games
2017 — Shelton Gibson, 5th round, 166th pick, Philadelphia, 20 games
2016 — Wendell Smallwood, 5th round, 153rd pick, Philadelphia, 53 games
2016 — Nick Kwiatkoski, 4th round, 113th pick, Chicago, 69 games
2015 — Mark Glowinski, 4th round, 134th pick, Seattle, 79 games
2012 — Keith Tandy, 6th round, 174th pick, Tampa Bay, 2012-18, 90 games
2012 — Najee Goode, 5th round, 150th pick, Tampa Bay, 2012-19, 90 games
2011 — Chris Neild, 7th round, 253rd pick, Washington, 2011-14, 24 games
2011 — J.T. Thomas, 6th round, 195th pick, Bears, 62 games
2009 — Ellis Lankster, 7th round, 220th pick, Buffalo, 49 games
2009 — Pat McAfee, 7th round, 222nd pick, Indianapolis, 127 games
2008 — Ryan Mundy, 6th round, 194th pick, Steelers, 96 games
2008 — Owen Schmitt, 5th round, 163rd pick, Seattle, 74 games
2005 — Rasheed Marshall, 5th round, 174th pick, San Francisco, 12 games
2003 — James “Dirty” Davis, 5th round, 144th pick, Detroit, 40 games
2000 — Marc Bulger, 6th round, 166th pick, New Orleans, 96 games
1997 — Canute Curtis, 6th round, 176th pick, Cincinnati, 70 games
1993 — Adrian Murrell, 5th round, 120th pick, New York Jets, 122 games
1989 — Bo Orlando, 6th round, 157th pick, Houston, 129 games
1988 — Willie Drewery, 11th round, 281st pick, Houston, 128 games
1981 — Fulton Walker, 6th round, 154th pick, Miami, 81 games
1978 — Tom Pridemore, 9th round, Atlanta, 236th pick, 121 games
1975 — Jeff Merrow, 11th round, 268th pick, Atlanta, 108 games
1971 — Bob Gresham, 8th round, 201st pick, New Orleans. 75 games
1963 — Tom Woodeshick, 8th round, 102nd pick, 115 games
1940 — Harry Clarke, 13th round, 117th pick, Bears, 74 games