Lansing - While family, friends and reporters waited for T.J. Duckett to make a statement at Trippers on Saturday, his aunt June Smith asked, Anyone like Georgia peaches?
A short time earlier, Duckett was with friends and family at the Frandor Shopping Center sports bar when the Atlanta Falcons notified him that he was their selection in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Kalamazoo native was the No. 18 pick overall and the second running back taken in the draft.
Duckett, who skipped his final year of eligibility, was so excited he didnt know who called him with the news.
All I heard was Atlanta and the Falcons and thats all that mattered, he said. They were like, Do you want to be a Falcon? Sure, how can I say no?
Four other Spartans also were selected in the weekends NFL Draft. Tight end Chris Baker was picked No. 88 by the New York Jets, wide receiver Herb Haygood went No. 144 to Denver, defensive tackle Josh Shaw was picked at No. 172 by San Francisco and punter Craig Jarrett was selected at No. 194 by Seattle.
Even though Duckett didnt have to wait as long as his former teammates, he did wait two picks longer than he anticipated. The Cleveland Browns used its No. 16 pick to take the first running back of the draft, Boston Colleges William Green. Duckett was projected by some as the No. 1 running back in this years pool.
He said he was nervous when the Browns selected Green.
I didnt know what other teams needed a running back or how far down Id be, Duckett said. I had been watching the draft for almost three-and-a-half hours, and I wasnt sure how much longer Id have to wait to hear my named called. It was a relief when Atlanta called.
I was shocked at being drafted by Atlanta - I didnt talk to them, I didnt work out with them and the Falcons didnt express a lot of interest.
Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves said that was because the Falcons didnt think he would be available that late.
T.J. Duckett is definitely a unique player, Reeves said in a statement. He was a guy we simply couldnt pass up. I certainly expected him to be gone by this point in the draft, and I never imagined him being available for our selection.
You cant pass up a running back who weighs 250 pounds and runs like T.J. does. He is a heck of a running back, and I hope he turns out to be another Jerome Bettis.
Ducketts brother Tico played for Reeves in 1993.
Hes a heck of a coach, Tico Duckett said. A perfectionist, hes all about no mistakes. It even gets to the point where he doesnt allow you to walk around the field without your chin strap snapped. All he expects out of his players is perfection.
Ill talk to him when I get down there. Thats going to be interesting, Ill say, Why did you cut me? But thats OK, you picked up my brother, so thats all right.
Duckett joins a loaded and talented Atlanta backfield, highlighted by last years No. 1 pick, quarterback Michael Vick. Veteran running backs Jamal Anderson and Warrick Dunn also make up the Falcons backfield.
That lineup may mean Duckett may see limited playing time during his first season in the NFL. MSU head football coach Bobby Williams said that situation could work out to Ducketts advantage.
Theres not going to be immediate pressure for him to step in, Williams said. Those guys are going to take him under their wing and teach him the ropes a little bit, so hopefully theyll be able to bring him along.
T.J. is going to bring something to their backfield that they dont have, which is a guy with power and strength and all those things.
Anderson, who is coming off of his second knee surgery, was interviewed on ESPN shortly after Duckett was picked.
I am not going to sit here and say because we drafted a running back that my time in Atlanta is over, Anderson said. We signed Warrick Dunn and we draft a guy in the first round, the second running back overall, and so I would not say it looks really good for me either.
While Duckett was the 33rd first-round pick in school history, he was the first Spartan running back selected in the first round since Lorenzo White was picked 22nd overall in 1988 by the Houston Oilers.
Justin A. Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.