Dallas picks Spears in first round
By WILLIAM WEATHERS
Admittedly even Marcus Spears considered the possibility remote at best to experience a day as special as Saturday.
"No chance," he said. "I was fat and didn't really start getting playing time until middle school. Then I got to high school and still struggled in the ninth grade. I started lifting weights in the 10th grade and coming into my own. People said that I had the potential to be good if I worked. I heard that my whole life and that's what I did and you get this."
Spears was rewarded for his diligence and perseverance, highlighted by a standout career at defensive end LSU, when the Dallas Cowboys made the 6-foot-4, 298-pound Southern Lab graduate the 20th overall selection in the first round of NFL draft.
"The family can fly there in one hour," Spears said. "I know people there in Dallas. It's just a great situation. I'm overjoyed. I thank God first for everything. I was waiting and waiting and then it finally came."
Rather than fly to New York to take part in the draft, Spears opted to watch the proceedings in much more relaxed atmosphere amid a throng of family and friends at his sister's apartment.
"That was all I wanted," Spears said of the gathering. "To have this, this is what makes it worthwhile. The people that supported you all of your life and they understand what's going on and everybody's just happy."
The standing-room-only gathering reached a fever pitch during a commercial after St. Louis drafted Florida State offensive lineman Alex Barron. That's when one of Spears' two cell phones rang.
It was Dallas head coach Bill Parcells, calling to inform Spears that the Cowboys, who earlier drafted Troy defensive lineman Demarcus Ware with the 11th selection, were taking Spears with their second choice in the first round.
"He just told me congratulations," Spears said of his conversation with Parcells. "He said he was really looking forward to working with me. He said we've got to get to work."
The anticipation of the moment turned emotional once Spears hung up with Parcells, certain of his destination. His mother, Irma, was the first to offer congratulations followed by his sister Deidre and then his closest friend -- Michael Clayton, a first-round selection a year ago by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"It's all about opportunity and it's still not over with yet," Clayton said. "Marcus still has to prove himself worthy to be in the league. Just because you are a first-round pick you're not given an opportunity. You still have to make it for yourself and he has that in him."
Spears became the 24th player from LSU to be taken in the first round and 25th selection overall (quarterback Y.A. Tittle was drafted No. 1 twice). He was also the first Tiger selected by Dallas in the first round since 1997, when tight end David LaFleur was taken 22nd.
"It hits me because I've watched them all throughout their Super Bowl runs and I know that they have a great team," Spears said of the Cowboys. "It's a great place to play, a great place to live. I'm really fortunate and I thank God for it. I know I'm going to be able to go and help those guys, so I'm looking forward to that."
Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones said that Spears' performance during the Senior Bowl was a big selling point for an organization that dropped to 6-10 last season and is trying to rejuvenate a sagging defense.
"He elevated himself in our eyes," Jones said. "He gives us the size that we've been talking about that we would really like to get bigger."
The draft unfolded almost accordingly from Spears' perspective, rated as he was among the top defensive ends.
Once Dallas secured Ware at No. 11, four of the next five selections were defensive players before a run on defensive ends began -- drawing Spears' attention -- with Cincinnati drafting Georgia's David Pollack at No. 17 and Minnesota selecting Wisconsin's Erasmus James one pick later.
Following St. Louis' pick, Spears grab a quick bite of fried catfish and conferred with his sister over a copy of USA Today's draft preview before Parcells' call.
"I was pretty calm because I knew what was the worst-case scenario was going 22nd to Baltimore," said Spears, after earlier talking with Ravens' GM Ozzie Newsome. "Dallas was a big thing. They thought about it at (No.) 11 but they needed to sure up the linebacker position with Dexter Coakley retiring. They played their cards right."
Spears sought some seclusion, albeit briefly, away from the clamor inside the apartment. Within 15 minutes, Spears had accumulated 19 voicemail messages on his cell phone while conducting interviews, posing for pictures and trying to revel in the moment.
On the horizon, there will be a three-day mini camp this weekend in Dallas followed by preliminary contract discussions -- last year's 20th selection reaped a $5.8 million deal -- and the transition to a whole new world, a different life than before.
"I'll have a party and just relax," Spears said of his celebration plans. "I really haven't been able to sit down and take it all in yet. But as soon as I get a chance I will. It's amazing. I can't even put it into words to see my family enjoy it and everybody around. It's something you can't describe."