By Cam Huffman
A lifetime dream two decades in the making took only a little more than an hour to become reality for Tavon Austin Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, while the man who put the ball in his hands the last three years, Geno Smith, lived through a nightmare as the nation watched.
Austin, a former West Virginia University wide receiver, became the 10th first-round pick in Mountaineer history when the St. Louis Rams traded up to the No. 8 overall pick to select the 5-foot-8 playmaker in the first round of the NFL Draft.
“I just want to thank them,” Austin told NFL Network, just moments after posing for pictures with his new No. 1 jersey. “I’m going to work hard, and there will be no problems. I’m going to give 100 percent.”
The Paul Hornung Award winner as college football’s most versatile player, Austin said he’s ready to fill multiple roles for his new team.
“I’ve been doing it for eight years, and I’m ready to do it again,” he said. “I want to help the team win.”
Austin, who was the first wide receiver selected, caught 112 passes for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
“I had a feeling (the Rams) liked me,” said Austin in an interview with the Rams website. “When I went up there for a visit, I really connected well with all the coaches. It was all smiles while I was there.”
Austin was the highest WVU selection since Pacman Jones went No. 6 to the Tennessee Titans in 2005. Hinton native Dick Leftridge, selected third by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1966, was the highest selection in Mountaineer history.
While Austin celebrated, Smith — at one time projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick — waited.
The No. 1 quarterback on the majority of the experts’ lists, Smith watched Florida State’s E.J. Manuel go as a surprise pick to the Buffalo Bills at No. 16 — the first quarterback off the board — and then waited through 16 more agonizing selections without ever hearing his name.
After more than four hours of picks, Smith — who was on the front page of ESPN.com throughout the day Thursday and the focus of the ESPN and NFL Network television cameras from the start of their draft coverage — had to head back to a New York City hotel and wait to see if his name will be called in today’s second round.
Round 2 will begin at 6:30 p.m. and be shown live on ESPN.
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