Former Edwardsville High and University of Nebraska defensive line standout Vincent Valentine surprised some when he declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft earlier this year with one year of college eligibility remaining.
Valentine’s decision was rewarded late Friday night when he was selected in the third round of the draft by the New England Patriots with the 96th overall pick. Valentine (6-foot-4, 329 pounds) is considered a run-stuffing nose tackle with good size, speed and agility.
“Definitely,” Valentine told Patriots reporters in a conference call when asked about the decision to come out early for the draft. “I knew I put it all in God’s hands. I knew he would take care of me. No matter where I went I was going to work my hardest, put my all into it so I mean I’m definitely happy with the pick that happened for me. But I mean everything happens for a reason and I decided to come out and I think it worked out great for me.”
Former Sparta High standout Darius Jackson also had his dream of hearing his name called at the NFL Draft come true when the Eastern Michigan running back was selected in the sixth round (217th overall) by the Dallas Cowboys.
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Jackson (6-1, 220) ran for 1,089 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015, scoring a school-record 16 TDs overall. He finished his career at Eastern Michigan with 1,586 yards rushing and 17 TDs.
Jackson got NFL scouts attention at his pro day at the University of Michigan, when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, turned in a 41-inch vertical jump and had a broad jump of 11 feet, 1 inch.
Mater Dei graduate Adam Fuehne was not drafted, but signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions. The Southern Illinois University Carbondale tight end celebated the special moment with friends and family at his parents’ Fuehne’s Tavern in Damiansville.
Valentine graduated from Nebraska in December.
He had three sacks and seven tackles for loss as a sophomore along with 45 tackles, then battled an ankle injury while still playing well when healthy as a junior. Valentine had 76 tackles, seven sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in three years at Nebraska.
Edwardsville High football coach Matt Martin said Valentine was always a gifted athlete and credited him for getting his degree on time. He was thrilled to see one of his players drafted so high.
“You just want to see everybody’s dreams come true and playing in the NFL is a dream for many young men,” Martin said. Fortunately for Vincent he was blessed with some physical tools where the NFL was a possibility and he’s got more than a foot in the door now.
“When you’re drafted in the third round they’re going to invest some time in your development. If he stays healthy and continues to work hard he can make a career out of it.:
Martin said being drafted by the Patriots says a lot.
“People can like them or hate them, but everybody respects them and everybody respects their choices of draft picks and free agents,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of evaluating talent over the years.”