Dwayne Gratz, Sio Moore, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson arrived together at Connecticut in 2008, built a bond that season as redshirt freshmen, and then stayed together to form the nucleus of one of the top defensive units in college football as seniors in 2012.
Friday night they showed their unity one more time, entering their professional careers in the same round of the NFL Draft and only seven picks apart.
It all happened in a span of about 20 minutes. After sitting through Thursday’s first round and then facing the disappointment of not being selected in Friday’s second round, Gratz got things rolling when he became the second pick of the third round. The Jacksonville Jaguars took Gratz with the No. 64 pick overall.
Two picks later it was Moore’s turn. The Liberian-born linebacker who turned so many heads in all-star games and the NFL Combine, went to the Oakland Raiders with the No. 66 pick. And before the enormity of that moment had a chance to sink in, the Tennessee Titans stepped to the podium at Radio City Music Hall and announced they had taken Wreh-Wilson with the No. 70 pick.
“We all came in [to UConn] and we were all impact freshmen, to be honest with you,” Wreh-Wilson said in a conference call with reporters Friday night. “We redshirted our first year. We were always close to each another, then we started playing together and it was kind of like we were the heart of the defense.
“And the crazy thing about it is we all went so close to each other in the NFL draft. We all went third round and we all went to good teams.”
Defensive end Trevardo Williams was not selected Friday night but he is expected to go sometime Saturday when rounds 4-7 are held. If Williams is drafted it would be the third time since 2009 that UConn has featured four picks in single draft.
If there was any surprise Friday night it was that Gratz was the first Husky selected. The consensus opinion was that either Moore or Wreh-Wilson would go first and both were given a good shot at becoming second-round picks.
Gratz said UConn’s Three Amigos did not have any pre-draft wager based on who would be taken first.
“If I knew what I know now, I wish I would have done something like that,” said Gratz, who started dreaming about playing in the NFL soon after he started playing the game at age 7.
“It was very exciting [being drafted so closely together]. We all put in a lot of hard work, playing at UConn five years. There was a lot of hard work that went into it. We all wanted to each other go high and it didn’t really matter who went first.”
But Gratz couldn’t help but admit it felt good to go first.
“It felt good because I was always the underdog. A lot of people didn’t know me or what type of player I was, the person I was. It’s just an honor and it just shows all the hard work I put in and how dedicated I was, got me to where I am now.”
There had been talk of Moore being a first-round sleeper and he was considered a player whose status was climbing in recent weeks. After the New York Giants and Chicago Bears passed on him with the 49th and 50th picks overall, Moore admitted to feeling some frustration. The Giants took defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins from Ohio State and the Bears took linebacker Jon Bostic of Florida.
“I had met with Chicago the day before the draft and I thought that was going to be a sure
thing,” Moore said. “It didn’t happen and I’m just glad that the right organization picked
me. I’m glad to be a part of the Oakland Raiders.”
Moore paused, then interrupted himself before another reporter could ask a question.
“That’s kind of crazy to say I’m part of the Oakland Raiders. . . . Holy crap,” Moore said.
Moore continues to refer to himself the “best linebacker” in this draft. But there were seven linebackers selected before him, including Manti Te’o of Notre Dame.
“You never know what’s going to happen in these situations. People say a lot of
things and you can get your hopes up, but for me it’s what I’m used to. I
always have a chip on my shoulder. The whole process has reinforced the entire
Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network, said Moore is an example of someone who uses the draft process and gets the best results.
“When I say trust the process, the process means East-West [game], combine, pro day,” Mayock said. “He excelled in all those. Coaches love that he’ll lineup on the slot, inside and cover man to man. He came from nowhere, but because of his work ethic, he’s now a third-round pick.”