Saturday was an unforgettable day for Sparta High graduate Darius Jackson.
Especially after he answered the phone and found himself talking to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after the Cowboys made the talented Eastern Michigan running back their sixth pick in the NFL Draft.
“Wow, to have Jerry Jones tell you you’re a Dallas Cowboy ... I don’t think there’s any other feeling that’s better,” said Jackson, who was at the home of his St. Louis-based agent, Harold Lewis, surrounded by parents Sandra and Tyrone Jackson, family and friends when the call came in. “It’s hard to really describe. He said ‘You’re going to like the feeling of being a Dallas Cowboy,’ and I’m already feeling it.”
Jones handed the phone off to Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, who also welcomed Jackson to the team.
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“Oh my God, I’m going to be a Dallas Cowboy!,” an excited Jackson told everyone that could hear him.
“We’re glad you’re a Cowboy,” Jones can be seen telling Jackson on a video on the Dallas Cowboys website, talking to Jackson for a few minutes before handing the phone off to Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.
It was a similar feeling of joy and excitement on Saturday for Mater Dei High graduate Adam Fuehne.
Wow, to have Jerry Jones tell you you’re a Dallas Cowboy ... I don’t think there’s any other feeling that’s better.
Darius Jackson on his NFL Draft moment
The Southern Illinois University Carbondale tight end wasn’t drafted, but began getting calls from NFL teams even before the draft ended. Surrounding by parents, Dave and Cid Fuehne, family and friends at his parent’s Fuehne’s Tavern in the small Clinton County town of Damiansville, Fuehne broke the news that he had signed with the Detroit Lions as a free agent.
“I came outside and there was a ton of people,” Fuehne said. “They came around and all start cheering and hugging me and congratulating me. It was a once in a lifetime experience.”
Fuehne estimated the crowd at close to 300.
“When I came out I had some Lions gear and they were all standing there waiting for me,” Fuehne said. “I didn’t expect that at all, it was pretty cool.”
The highest metro-east draft pick was Edwardsville High graduate Vincent Valentine, the University of Nebraska defensive tackle chosen in the third round by the New England Patriots.
The Cowboys will have two running backs from the St. Louis area after selecting St. Louis native and Ohio State star Ezekiel Elliott in the first round.
“We trained at Bommarito’s together in Florida, so we were on the same field a couple times,” said Jackson, who was the 217th overall pick.
Elliott and Jackson will be competing for spots in a backfield that already includes Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar.
I came outside and there was a ton of people. They came around and all start cheering and hugging me and congratulating me. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Adam Fuehne on breaking the news about signing with the Lions
Jackson got the attention of the Cowboys and other NFL teams after lighting things up at his pro day at the University of Michigan, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds and had a 41-inch vertical jump.’
His final season at Eastern Michigan included 1,110 yards rushing on 207 carries and 21 pass receptions for 201 yards and he scored a school-record 16 touchdowns.
Jackson grew up in Garland, Texas, which is roughly 19 miles from Dallas. He moved to Sparta when he was in seventh grade, but found it rewarding to be drafted by a team so close to his Texas roots.
He described the anxious feeling of watching the draft unfold.
“You sit there and you’re optimistic and your nerves are going,” he said. “As the rounds go you’re getting more and more anxious. You’re finally just so happy to have that relief and getting that call, it’s just an explosion of emotions all at once.
“It’s hard to describe, but it’s just a great feeling.”
Jackson has spent the last seven or eight years trying to prove himself to others, usually with good results. He starred at Sparta and had a big senior year at Eastern Michigan, but now finds himself starting over again with the Cowboys.
He will travel to Dallas this week and the Cowboys’ mini-camp begins Thursday.
“That’s the fun part,” he said. “You put in all the work to get to this point and now you’re at the pinnacle of your career. It’s no problem for me, I’ve had to prove myself at each and every level again and again. Now it’s just time to really put it all out there and go all out.
“All I needed was the opportunity and the way it happened, I couldn’t ask for a better way to go into it.”
Jackson said he is driven to prove he belongs in the NFL.
“It’s just consistently proving it to people you can play, giving it your all, developing and maturing,” he said. “There’s haters and there’s people that will support you no matter what. I surround myself with the positive people.”
Fuehne has always attracted attention because of his size - he now stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 260 pounds. Now he’s got a shot at an NFL roster spot and said he felt more comfortable with the Lions than other teams after developing a relationship with tight ends coach Al Golden.
Golden, a former college head coach at Miami and Temple, was hired by the Lions in February.
“I’ve been talking to Coach Golden since March, so I felt like I was already a step ahead of the rest of the guys,” said Fuehne, who also got to speak with Lions head coach Jim Caldwell on Saturday. “He said I’ve got to get down there to that tavern of yours.”
Fuehne would have obviously preferred to be drafted, but being an undrafted free agent has its advantages. The biggest one is an opportunity to choose the team he wanted to sign with after his agent spoke with 12 NFL teams regarding his availability.
“It was a crazy day, just sitting there watching the draft hoping I was going to get drafted,” Fuehne said. “When it didn’t happen I was a little disappointed, but I started getting phone calls even before the draft ended. I chose the Lions because I have a better chance to succeed there and better chance to make their roster.”