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Tavon Austin Joins Ranks Of Baltimore Natives In NFL

April 29, 2013

By Keith Mills

"With the eighth pick of the 2013 NFL draft," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, "the St. Louis Rams select Tavon Austin, wide receiver, University of West Virginia."

With that, another Baltimore-area high school football player is headed to the National Football League, joining some select company.


Since the NFL Draft began in 1936, there have been 13 first-round picks who went to Baltimore-area high schools, and Austin is the fifth taken during the first 10 picks. The Rams' selection of Austin April 25 continued a sensational year for Austin, a former electrifying Dunbar running back, who began his 2012 senior season at West Virginia as a projected high- to mid-round second-round pick.

But after scoring 12 touchdowns for the Mountaineers with nearly 2,000 yards of total offense, plus another 978 yards of kick and punt returns, Austin started to move up on mock drafts all over the country.

More importantly, he started moving up draft boards throughout the NFL. Then he blew up the NFL Combine, and it wasn't long before coaches, general managers and every talking head from Mel Kiper to Gil Brandt was talking about Austin being a possible top 10 pick.

On April 25, the Rams traded up to get him, dealing their 16th pick during the first round, a second-round pick and a seventh-round pick to Buffalo for the Bills' first-round pick, the No. 8 selection during this year's draft.

"I think I can help on special teams and play offense too," said Austin, who wore a maroon suit at Radio City Music Hall, the color of the Dunbar Poets. "Hopefully I'll get that chance. I'm going to come in and work hard and hope everything goes right.”

At 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, Austin is one of the smallest first-round draft picks ever. LaDainian Tomlinson was 5-foot-10, 195 pounds when the San Diego Chargers took him with the fifth overall pick of the 2001 draft. Darren Sproles (5-foot-6), Percy Harvin (5-foot-10) and Wes Welker (5-foot-9) are players Austin is often compared with now.

Harvin, now with the Seattle Seahawks, was the Minnesota Vikings' first-round draft pick four years ago, while Welker, now with the Denver Broncos, was not drafted.

"I've always looked up to both of those guys," Austin said, "especially Percy Harvin. He's about the same size as me. And Wes Welker, we played for the same college coach."

Welker went to Texas Tech. His position coach during the fall of 2004 was Dana Holgorsen, Austin's head coach at West Virginia the last two years.

"I learned a lot from coach Holgorson," Austin said. "He runs the spread offense. Every play you have two different routes depending on the coverage. Hopefully, I can take what I learned and make it work in the NFL."

With former Rams wideout Danny Amendola now with the Patriots, St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher may insert Austin into his starting lineup immediately.

Austin is one of the most decorated Baltimore-area football players ever, earning three straight Offensive Player of the Year awards from The Baltimore Sun. In 2009, he capped off his career as a senior with 34 touchdowns and more than 2,660 total yards. During his career at Dunbar, he finished with 52 touchdowns, 790 points scored, 7,460 yards rushing and 9,258 total yards.

All are state records.

"I'm going to come in and stay out of trouble," Austin said when asked what his message to the St. Louis fans would be. "That's No. 1. I'm going to come in week in and week out and practice hard and hopefully, make big plays on Sundays."

That work ethic is no surprise to anyone who knows him. Since Austin played for the Northwood Recreation team in northeast Baltimore, people have told him he was too small. It motivated him. It drove him.

So did his love for the game.

***

"I've been playing football since I was 7 years old," Austin said, "and I was always told I was too small. … My size didn't affect me at all. I've always considered myself a football player."

Austin is one of a handful of local players this year either drafted or signed after the draft as free agents.

The Detroit Lions drafted Woodlawn's Corey Fuller during the sixth round. Lions head coach Jimmy Schwartz is also a Baltimore native, who went to Mount St. Joseph. Fuller played his college football at Virginia Tech. He was the third player picked during the sixth round, the 171st overall player selected.

Fuller and Austin both spent about two months in Orlando, Fla., after the college football season ended. They worked out with both Tom Shaw, a respected NFL speed coach, and Poly's Antonio Freeman, a 10-year veteran in the league and also a graduate of Virginia Tech.

The Green Bay Packers drafted Maryland wide receiver Kevin Dorsey during the seventh round, and the Miami Dolphins signed the Terps' A.J. Francis as a free agent. Francis grew up in Glen Burnie, but went to Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C. His father, Mike, is the former boys' basketball coach at North County High in Ferndale.

The Ravens signed Maryland tight end Matt Furstenberg as a free agent, as well as Brandon Copeland, a linebacker/defensive end from the University of Pennsylvania, who played at Gilman.

The Ravens also drafted Aaron Mellette, a 6-foot-2, 217-pound wide receiver, and signed tight end Chris Harris of Elon University of North Carolina and offensive lineman Steve Demilio of Gardner-Webb. One of Harris' teammates at Elon was linebacker/safety Blake Thompson of Cardinal Gibbons, while Demilio is a native of Severna Park.

Alec Lemon, who set state records as a wide receiver at Arundel High School in Gambrills, was one of the Houston Texans' free-agent signees.

Austin is the third Dunbar player during the last 25 years to get the chance to play in the NFL. Calvin Williams graduated from Dunbar in 1984, went to Purdue and played seven years in the NFL, including seven games with the Ravens in 1996.

Tommy Polley left Dunbar for Florida State in 1997 and played six years in the NFL. It was a career that also included a stop with the Ravens in 2005.

But neither Williams (a Philadelphia Eagles fifth-round draft pick in 1990) nor Polley (a St. Louis Rams second-round pick in 2001) was a first-round draft pick.

In fact, there have been only 13 Baltimore-area players selected during the first round of the NFL Draft. Here is the list of Baltimore's first-round draft picks.

Bob Williams, Loyola Blakefield
1951, Second Pick

Williams played for coach Ed Hargaden at Loyola Blakefield before moving on to Notre Dame, where he led coach Frank Leahy's Fighting Irish to the 1949 collegiate national championship. One of greatest athletes ever in Baltimore, Williams was a first-team All-American and the second player chosen during the 1951 NFL Draft. He was sandwiched that year between No. 1 pick Kyle Rote of Southern Methodist University and No. 3 pick Y.A. Tittle of Louisiana State University.

George Halas and the Chicago Bears selected Williams, and he played three years in the NFL before returning to Baltimore and opening what is now Harbor Federal Bank in east Baltimore. Now 83, Williams was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
 
Jack Scarbath, Baltimore Polytechnic
1953, Third Pick

Like Williams, Scarbath was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame -- five years earlier, in 1983. He also played quarterback and was also one of Baltimore's greatest athletes. He starred for coach Bob Lumsden at Poly, where he also played basketball and lacrosse.

Scarbath played his college football at Maryland, where he was named first-team All-American and the Southern Conference Player of the Year. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1952.

In January 1953, he was the third player picked during the NFL Draft, behind Harry Babcock of Georgia and Billy Vessels of Oklahoma, whom the Baltimore Colts took with the second pick. The Pittsburgh Steelers took future Baltimore Colts and Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda two picks later. Scarbath played three years with the Redskins, the team that drafted him; one year with Ottawa of the Canadian Football League; and another year with the Steelers
 
Dick Bielski, Patterson High
1955, Ninth Pick

Like Scarbath, Bielski played college football at Maryland, after a brilliant career at Patterson High in east Baltimore. An All-Maryland Scholastic Association fullback under legendary coach Irv Biasi at Patterson, Bielski was a preseason All-American at Maryland in 1954, and earned a spot that year in both the Senior Bowl and the North-South Shrine Game.

The Eagles selected him with the ninth pick of the 1955 draft. He kicked and played fullback and tight end during a nine-year career, which ended with two years in Dallas and two years with the Colts, his hometown team.

Bielski is now 80 years old, with strong ties to the Baltimore area. His sons, Ricky Bielski and Randy Bielski, both played college football at Towson and are successful local businessmen.
 
Ray Chester, Douglass High
1970, 24th Pick

There used to be a picture hanging in the study of Earl "Papa Bear" Banks, a former head coach at Morgan State who is now in the College Football Hall of Fame, that was one of his favorites. It was of Ray Chester, Willie Lanier and Leroy Kelly at the 1971 NFL Pro Bowl.

All three played for Banks at Morgan, and all three had outstanding careers in the NFL, including Chester, a fast and graceful 6-foot-3 tight end from west Baltimore.

"Raymond Chester was one of the great tight ends to ever play the game," Banks once said. "College football or the pros -- he was tremendous."

Banks passed away in October 1993 at age 69, though the legend of Morgan football lives on.

Chester; Kelly; and Lanier, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, starred at Morgan when the Bears were a small college powerhouse during the 1960s and '70s.

Chester went to Douglass High School and arrived on the Morgan campus during the fall of 1966. In 1970, the Oakland Raiders drafted him with the 24th pick of the first round. He caught passes from Kenny Stabler and later Jim Plunkett, and blocked alongside Gene Upshaw and Art Shell as the Raiders beat the Eagles, 27-10, during Super Bowl XV in New Orleans.

It was Chester's second stint with the Raiders, sandwiched between five productive and successful years with the Colts. Along with Roger Carr and Glenn Doughty, Chester was one of quarterback Bert Jones' favorite targets. He helped the Colts win three straight Eastern Division championships.

Chester, who will turn 65 in June, lives in the Oakland area.
 
Ray Snell, Northwestern
1980, 22nd Pick

Snell played for coach Jim Welch at Northwestern High in west Baltimore, where he also ran track and played basketball. But it was on the football field where Snell was a terror. A guard and tackle on offense and a linebacker on defense, he represented the North team during the second Maryland State Senior All-Star game at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md., during the summer of 1976.

Along with Northwestern teammate Ray Sydnor, Snell went to Wisconsin, where they both played for coaches John Jardine and Dave McClain.

Sydnor also played basketball for the Badgers, while the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Snell went on to earn Big Ten honors in football at guard. In 1980, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Snell with the 22nd pick of the first round. He spent four years with the Bucs playing guard and another two with the Steelers and Lions.

Randy McMillan, North Harford
1981, 12th Pick

McMillan was one of the last Baltimore Colts. A 1977 graduate of North Harford High School, he was a two-time junior college All-American for coach Dick Fordyce at Harford Community College. Fordyce had built the Owls into a junior college powerhouse during the late 1970s, and McMillan parlayed the exposure into a scholarship offer from coach Jackie Sherrill at Pittsburgh.

Tony Dorsett had left the Panthers two years before, but the quarterback when McMillan arrived on campus during the fall of 1979 was Dan Marino. McMillan spent two outstanding years with the Panthers, and then his hometown team, the Baltimore Colts, selected him with the 12th pick of the 1981 NFL Draft. Lawrence Taylor and Ronnie Lott were two of the 11 players selected before him.

The early 1980s Colts were not good, though McMillan was. He rushed for 597 yards and three touchdowns during his rookie season and 802 yards and five touchdowns in 1983, the Colts' last year in Baltimore.

They left Baltimore March 29, 1984, and McMillan played the last three years of his career in Indianapolis. He's 54 now and is still recovering from a car accident, which injured his spine in 2002.
 
Mike Pitts, Polytechnic
1983, 16th Pick

Coach Augie Waibel's Poly Engineers of 1976 and '77 were powerful, fast, athletic, experienced and tough to beat. On offense, they featured quarterback John Nash and running backs Tim Whittie and Steve Jones. Their defensive leaders were linebackers Darnell Dailey, Jay Smith and James Feaster, as well as linemen Webster Powell, Miroslaw Budzko and Mike Pitts, all of whom made it almost impossible for opposing offenses to score.

Pitts may have been the best player of them all. An All-MSA end for two years at Poly, he went on to Alabama, where he played for Paul "Bear" Bryant and watched the Crimson Tide win the 1979 national championship as a redshirt freshman.

The Atlanta Falcons took him with the 16th pick of the 1983 draft. The No. 1 pick that year was John Elway, selected by the Colts, who later traded him to the Denver Broncos for Chris Hinton and Mark Hermann.

After four years in Atlanta, where he totaled 25 sacks, Pitts moved on Philadelphia, where he played six years with the Eagles and totaled more than 100 single-season tackles three times. He ended his 12-year career in Foxborough, Mass., with the Patriots.

One of the most dominant high school players ever in Baltimore, and one of the NFL's best ever, Pitts is now 52 and living in Atlanta.
 
Brian Jozwiak, Catonsville
1986, Seventh Pick

Brian Jozwiak didn't play high school football at Catonsville until his sophomore year, when he told coach Charlie DeManns he'd give football a shot. At the time, he was 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. As a junior, he was 3.5 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier. He played defensive end, and started getting some attention from college football coaches throughout the country.

As a senior, he weighed 295 pounds and was a ferocious offensive tackle. He was also throwing the shot put and discus on the Comets' track team when he committed to coach Don Nehlen and the football program at West Virginia.

By the time he was a senior in Morgantown, W.Va., Jozwiak was 6-foot-6, 305 pounds. He was bench-pressing 500 pounds and squatting 635. He was also a finalist for the Outland Trophy, symbolic of the best lineman in college football.

Jozwiak was wildly popular in Morgantown, where he worked with Special Olympics and the March of Dimes. He was voted onto the school's 1980s All-Decade team and inducted into the West Virginia Athletic Hall of Fame. During the 1986 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs picked him seventh.

Three years later, and after 28 games with the Chiefs, Jozwiak was out of football. Now 49, he lives in Winter Haven Park, Fla., where he is an assistant coach for the Winter Haven High football team. He still returns to Morgantown to host a charity golf tournament.
 
Bryant Johnson, City College
2003, 17th Pick

One of the greatest players in the storied history of City College, Johnson was the epitome of class when he played wide receiver for legendary coach George Petrides. Johnson was an outstanding student and gifted athlete, who also played basketball and ran track. As a sophomore, he helped the Knights reach the Class 2A state football semifinals. As a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior, he caught 44 passes and 10 touchdowns and also finished second in the state in the high jump.

As a senior, he earned a second All-Metro honor and took off for Penn State, where he was named All Big-Ten. The Arizona Cardinals drafted him with the 17th pick of the 2003 draft. He returned to Baltimore with the Cardinals during the 2007 season, catching a pass for 18 yards during his homecoming.

After that season, he left for the San Francisco 49ers, and later played for the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans.
 
Branden Albert, Glen Burnie
2008, 15th Pick

Just five months after the Cardinals selected Johnson and the Ravens made Terrell Suggs the 10th pick of the 2003 draft, Branden Albert of Glen Burnie High began one of the most dominating prep football seasons a lineman has ever had in Anne Arundel County.

It came after his mother, Susan, pulled him out of his high school in Rochester, N.Y., and sent him to live with his older brother in Anne Arundel County.

His offensive line coach at Glen Burnie was Pat Kostoski, a former standout for coach Gene Nieberlein at Mount St. Joseph, while his basketball coach was Mike Rudd. It was on the basketball court where Albert, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound center, got more attention.

With Albert and point guard Mitch Guest leading the way, the Gophers reached the Class 4A state semifinals in both 2003 and '04. In '04, The Baltimore Sun named Albert second-team All-Metro in basketball as the Gophers finished 23-4 before losing to Northwestern during the state semifinals.

In December 2003, Albert was named first-team All-Metro in football, which helped earned him a scholarship to Virginia. Playing next to D'Brickashaw Ferguson, now with the New York Jets, Albert was named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference as a senior. The Kansas City Chiefs took him with the 15th pick of the 2008 draft.

Albert is still a member of the Chiefs, though they made tackle Eric Fisher of Central Michigan the No. 1 pick during this year's draft and have been trying to trade Albert for the last two months.
 
Aaron Maybin, Mt. Hebron
2009, 11th Pick

Aaron Maybin's rise to the top of the Penn State depth chart was quick. His rise to top of the 2009 NFL Draft was meteoric. As a senior at Mount Hebron for coach Larry Luthe, he earned All-Metro honors with 10 sacks and 82 tackles. As a 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior at Penn State, Maybin earned a starting spot at linebacker, and became one of the best pass rushers in the country as a senior.

The Buffalo Bills selected Maybin with the 11th overall pick of the 2009 draft, and he spent two years in Buffalo before moving on to play for Rex Ryan and the Jets. Now, he's playing for Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis -- like Ryan, a former Ravens defensive coordinator.

Maybin still lives in the Baltimore area during the offseason and is active with his Project Mayhem program. He is the son of former Baltimore City fire department spokesman Mike Maybin.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, McDonogh
2009, Seventh Pick

Before the Buffalo Bills selected Maybin and the Ravens took tackle Michael Oher from Ole Miss, Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders made wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey the seventh pick of the 2009 draft. A track and football standout at McDonogh, Heyward-Bey won the 100- and 200-meter runs during the 2005 MIAA track championships after he committed earlier that year to play football at the University of Maryland.

A wide receiver and linebacker at McDonogh for coach Dominic D'Amico, Heyward-Bey was involved in an intense recruiting battle, which included Alabama, Virginia, Michigan State and Boston College, but he decided to play for coach Ralph Friedgen and the Terrapins.

With the Oakland Raiders struggling and their quarterback situation in constant disarray, Heyward-Bey struggled to find a comfort zone in Oakland, finishing his four years there with 140 catches and 11 touchdowns. The Indianapolis Colts signed him as a free agent in March.

There have been other Baltimore-area athletes drafted into the NFL. Aberdeen's Irv Pankey and E.J. Henderson, Dunbar's Polley, Gilman's Victor Abiamiri and Edmondson's Warren Powers were all second-round selections. Western Tech's Domonique Foxworth, Poly's Freeman and Arundel's Louis Carter were selected during the third round.

Mount St. Joseph's Mike Brennan; South Carroll's Mike Mooney; and Mount St. Joe's Vince Fuller, Corey Fuller's older brother, were taken during the fourth round. Dunbar's Calvin Williams and McDonogh's Eric King went during the fifth round and Loyola's Mike Creaney during the sixth, while Cardinal Gibbons' Vaughn Hebron and Loch Raven's Sean Landeta were signed as free agents, and went on to help the Broncos and Giants, respectively, win Super Bowls.

Then there are LaQuan Williams and Ricardo Silva, teammates six years ago at Poly. The Ravens signed Williams as a free agent out of Maryland two years ago, and he helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII, while Silva played the 2012 season with the Detroit Lions.

There have been other local NFL players, but the list of Baltimore-area first-round picks is short and impressive, and now Dunbar's Tavon Austin is on it.

Posted April 29, 2013