EAST TEXAS (KTRE) - The NFL Draft is a time when years of hard work and dreams are realized.
For many East Texas football players, it is validation of hard work on the field and long summer days in the weight room.
The 2019 draft is no exception. In total, five young men with ties to East Texas could be hearing their name called out on one of the three days of the NFL Draft from Nashville.
The top-rated prospect out of the Pineywoods is Erik McCoy. McCoy, a center from Texas A&M, first fell in love with football at a young age in Lufkin.
"Erik played lots of sports growing up, but it was when he got to around the eighth grade that he said, ‘Mom, I want to go in early to the weight room and train in the summer,’ said Stacie Davis, McCoy’s mother. “He would go every day early in the morning and push himself. He did that every year after that, and it made an impact.”
McCoy was only a two-start recruit out of high school, but after a stellar college career at Texas A&M University, a solid Senior Bowl performance, and a great NFL Combine, his draft stock has risen to as high as the late first round and as low as the third round.
"I am not surprised at all on his draft stock," Lufkin High School Head Football Coach Todd Quick said. "He is fast and he performs well. You don't hear anything bad about Erik. He knows his job and he does it well."
McCoy has continued to meet with teams and work out ahead of draft day. He is a laid back person, always smiling and just having fun. He is not getting caught up in all the draft talk.
“It’s cool, it’s cool,” McCoy said after his pro day in College Station. “I have said this before, and I am not being mean about it; I can make a mock draft and make me the first pick. We will see how it plays out.”
McCoy would just add to an already long list of former Lufkin football players drafted into the NFL. That list includes his high school teammate Keke Coutee, Dez Bryant, NFL Hall of Famer Ken Houston and Super Bowl Champion with the Dallas Cowboys Joe Williams.
Just up the road from Lufkin, the Nacogdoches football program could see their first draft pick since Kynan Forney was selected in 2001. Greg Roberts Jr. is looking to end the drought.
Roberts Jr. comes from a football family. His father, Greg Roberts Sr., a former Nacogdoches Dragon as well, played for the University of Oklahoma and then in the NFL.
“I came back to Nacogdoches when Greg was a junior,” former Nacogdoches head coach Bobby Reyes said. “Greg had a great junior year. He played outstanding football. He was a tall, fast, lean kid. He didn’t have a lot of weight to him, but raw talent. You could tell he was special. I knew his lineage. I knew he would be a good prospect. He has made his own mark. You can never live off what your dad has done, and he has done that."
Roberts stayed at Baylor through five of the toughest years for the program. He continued to support the team as the school and athletic office dealt with serious allegations of sexual assault. By the time he finished with the Bears in December, Roberts had played for three different coaches. Still, he doesn’t seem to be ashamed of playing for the green and gold.
“He loves Baylor,” Reyes said. “He made a commitment and he wanted to stay there. When they had media day at the Big 12 he was picked to speak. That says a lot of how the school feels about him.”
The feeling seems to be mutual.
“It is bittersweet," Roberts said. "I got a lot of good memories, a lot of funny memories. I went out the right way. I put my stamp on this place. Bittersweet. A little happy and a little sad.”
Reyes said he isn’t just proud of Roberts’ skills on the field.
“With Greg, one of the biggest things I told him was I wanted him to graduate and he has graduated,” Reyes said. “For him, the draft is huge and gives him an opportunity to showcase his talents, but I am just proud that he has graduated and been a leader at Baylor.”
From Gilmer comes Kris Boyd, a confident talking, some say trash talking, corner who covers receivers like a glove. His high school coach, Randall Canaday, says Boyd is a hitter and knew one day he’d be in this position.
“When he was in the eigth grade he asked me who was the best player I ever had,” Canaday remembers. “I told him who, and he tells me he wants to be better than him. And then tells me that he’s going to win a state championship, play college football and go to the NFL.”
Coach would smile recalling the story and then flash a championship ring, saying, “He’s the reason why I have two of these”.
Not only did Boyd help the Buckeyes win a football state championship, but also track and field.
The all Big 12 player was always confident and has paid a visit to Baltimore and Denver. He’ll be waiting to hear his name called in the days to come, possibly late in the first round.
Fourteen miles from Gilmer is the hometown of Daylon Mack of Gladewater. Mack, from Texas A&M, is a defensive tackle whose motor is always running. His high school coach, John Berry, says he is such a tremendous athlete that there’s nothing that he can’t do. Nationally honored in academia, he truly lives up to the moniker of student athlete.
His mother Geracie says he’s very humble and always looks out for others. Already there’s a wing featuring Mack in the Gladewater Museum, with sports memorabilia from his college past. Also his two all star jerseys hang as a reminder that he’s one of the best in college football.
Mack is a fun-loving and responsible young man with tremendous support from not only his family, but all of Gladewater. His next stop on his special journey will be something he will likely handle like he has everything else to this point: with class.
The final name to keep an eye on would be Chris Wilkerson, a deep snapper from SFA.
Wilkerson, a first-team All-American deep snapper for the 'Jacks, played his high school ball in Waller, just west of Houston. He was a fullback and had no plans on going to Division I football. His original plan was to go to school and play tennis, another sport he excelled at, at the DIII level. But a social media post from an SFA coach sparked his interest in trying out to be a deep snapper at a camp with the 'Jacks, and the rest is history.
“I am that type of guy that says if you just give me an opportunity, I will show you what I can do,” Wilkerson said. “This is just the dream I really didn’t even think about when leaving high school.”
It is hard to be drafted as a deep snapper. Only seven have been drafted since 2001, but Wilkerson has impressed scouts from multiple teams and had a solid performance in the East West Shrine Game. He is heading into the draft as one of the top two deep snappers depending upon which board you view.
As always, crazy things can happen on draft night. Things can happen that will have a domino effect on each person from East Texas. Sometimes plans do not work out, but there is always the chance to be signed as an undrafted free agent. All five of these players have that ability.