It wasn’t until the sixth round of this weekend’s NFL Draft began that the phones finally started ringing for the University of Maine’s draft-eligible players.
Although they never had their names called or shown during ESPN’s draft TV coverage, an agonizing, patience-testing weekend finally came to a productive close Sunday night for Black Bears defensive players Jovan Belcher and Andrew Downey.
Belcher signed an undrafted free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs and Downey agreed to a similar deal with the Detroit Lions.
Ironically, as little as an hour earlier, the Lions didn’t look like a possibility for Downey, a second-team selection on the Colonial Athletic Association’s all-conference team as a linebacker.
“I didn’t really watch the draft yesterday. Over the years, I always thought is was kind of boring waiting for the picks, but I was watching today,” Downey said. “It was tough. After awhile, I got a call from the Lions, but it was to say they weren’t going to draft me at the end of the sixth round.”
But the Lions called back and this time, it was to offer a contract to try out at the team’s rookie camp later this week.
“A couple other teams talked to my agent and expressed some interest, but they didn’t seem to have as much interest as the Lions,” Downey said. “Once they offered a contract, it was pretty much a go. It’s funny, that was sort of the same thing I got from Maine when I was in high school. Beggars can’t be choosers, you know?”
Belcher could be a little more choosy as at least four or five teams have shown interest and been in contact with him or his agent the last few weeks. At least three teams called him Sunday.
“Baltimore and the Rams called to see about signing me as a free agent, but it was a better fit for me to go with the Chiefs,” said Belcher, UMaine’s star defensive end, who projects as a linebacker in the NFL.
The CAA’s defensive player of the year and consensus All-American spent the weekend with family in New York and tried to avoid watching draft coverage as much as possible.
Neither player was able to provide many details about their rookie camps as far as when they were reporting and how long. Neither of them could provide signing bonus figures either.
“I only talked to them for a couple minutes. I think there’s a rookie camp this weekend for three or four days and they’ll fly me out,” Downey said. “They gave me a signing bonus, but I’m not too sure what it is at the point.”
Downey said the Lions topped his list because they’re starting almost from scratch after an 0-16 season, they employ a 3-4 defensive scheme, and want to play him at outside linebacker.
“We run a 4-3 at Maine, but it plays like a 5-2 and I was the adjusting backer, playing both inside and outside in passing and running situations,” Downey explained. “We ran multiple sets on defense, so I think that pro style at Maine has helped me a lot.”
Downey and his father John are Patriots fans, but they’re switching allegiances.
“I was just talking to my dad and he said he was going to the store tomorrow to buy Lions gear,” he said with a laugh.