Five players from The University of Texas were chosen in the 2008 NFL Draft. The group gives the Longhorns at least five selections in each of the last three years for a total of 18 picks with seven in 2007 and six in 2006.
The 2008 class consisted of WR Limas Sweed (53rd overall, second round, Pittsburgh), RB Jamaal Charles (73rd overall, third round, Kansas City), TE Jermichael Finley (91st overall, third round, Green Bay), OT Tony Hills (130th overall, fourth round, Pittsburgh) and DT Frank Okam (151st overall, fifth round, Houston).
“This group of kids has won a National Championship, a conference championship and for the first time in school history, they won four bowl games,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown. “So they’re very proud of all they’ve accomplished. All of these guys have either graduated or they’re in position to with very few hours left. They’ve made a great impact on Texas football history, and they’ve put a tremendous amount of pressure on all of the young guys who are on this team now to continue to keep the standard in the classroom, and at the same time, win as many ballgames.”
Brown has now had at least one player selected in 23 straight NFL drafts, including a total of 38 draft picks at Texas.
“The fact that we have 34 current guys in the NFL, plus the addition of five this weekend shows that our coaches are doing a great job of evaluating and doing a tremendous job of coaching after they get here. It should be a great compliment to a young guy when a coach at The University of Texas offers him a scholarship. These guys have proven the fact that they know what they’re doing with evaluating and coaching over time. If you want to play in the NFL, Texas is a really good place to go to get the coaching you need to become an NFL player, as well as get your degree.”
Sweed became the 18th player chosen in the first or second round of the draft in the Mack Brown era. He is the third Texas receiver to be chosen in the last five years, following Roy Williams, who was taken with the seventh overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the 2004 draft, and Sloan Thomas, who was a seventh round pick by the Houston Texans the same year.
“It’s something you wait for, and I’m happy now that it’s come,” Sweed said. “I’m just ready to get in and go to work. The Steelers are a great team, and when I got the call, the coaches were telling me how much tradition they have up there. You always know Mean Joe Greene, and they’re always in the playoffs, plus Casey Hampton is there. To be drafted by such a traditional football team is something really similar to Texas. I know the fans will be behind them, so it’ll be a good thing. They have a great quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, so I’m excited.”
He also became the third Longhorn chosen by the Steelers since 1997 and the second wide receiver, including WR Mike Adams (seventh round, 1997) and DT Casey Hampton (first round, 2001) before the Steelers later selected Hills in the fourth round this year.
Charles is the second Longhorn chosen by the Chiefs since 2005 when the Chiefs selected LB Derrick Johnson with the 15th overall pick.
"It was a long day yesterday, watching and waiting for my name to hopefully get called,” Charles said. “I didn't get much sleep last night when it didn't and was up early today so I was pretty tired when I got picked. I'm glad it happened early. It's a dream come true to hear my name called in the NFL Draft.”
He is also the second Texas running back chosen in the last four years, following Cedric Benson, who was taken by the Chicago Bears with the fourth overall pick in 2005.
“I'm so happy and blessed to have been picked and to be in Kansas City,” Charles said. “I used to watch Priest (Holmes) when he was up there doing great things, and I know D.J. (Derrick Johnson) is there now so that's good. They both are guys that always play really hard and make plays so I'm going to be ready to live up to that Longhorn tradition in Kansas City. I'm just ready to step up for the challenge of the NFL.”
Finley is the third Texas tight end chosen in the last four years, following Bo Scaife in the sixth round of the 2005 draft by the Tennessee Titans, and David Thomas in the third round of the 2006 draft by the New England Patriots.
“I felt like for a long time that it was going to be Green Bay, so I was excited when I heard they wanted me,” Finley said. “Green Bay is a really nice atmosphere, and I like the way they play, so I think I’m going to love to play in Green Bay.”
He is also the first Longhorn chosen by the Packers since WR Johnny Walker in the eighth round of the 1991 draft.
“I said when I decided to come out early in January that I did because I was ready for bigger challenges in life on and off the field, so I'm really excited about being drafted today,” Finley said. “I'm ready to get in the NFL and be a productive player for the Packers.”
The Steelers followed their second-round selection of Sweed with that of Hills in the fourth round. The duo marked the first time two Longhorns have been chosen by the same team in the same draft since 1992 when the Denver Broncos selected DE Shane Dronett in the second round and OT Chuck Johnson in the fourth round.
“Every good feeling you could feel right now, that’s what I’m feeling,” Hills said. “It’s like the icing on the cake that I get to go play with Sweed. We came in together and we were roommates at one point. It’s just a great feeling.”
Hills is the fourth Texas offensive lineman chosen in the last three years, following Justin Blalock in the second round of 2007 by the Atlanta Falcons, Kasey Studdard in the sixth round of 2007 by the Houston Texans, and Jonathan Scott in the fifth round of 2006. Lyle Sendlein also signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2007. In addition, OG Derrick Dockery was a third round selection in 2003 by the Washington Redskins, OT Mike Williams was the fourth overall pick in 2002 by the Buffalo Bills and OT Leonard Davis was the second overall pick in 2001 by the Arizona Cardinals.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” Hills said of his road to the NFL. “My whole life has been an uphill battle. Because I’ve had the right influences in my life with my mom raising me in the church and my Christian background and just the will not to give up, it’s gotten me here so far. I just can’t wait to see where it takes me.”
The Texans closed the draft for the Longhorns with the selection of Okam in the fifth round, giving the team two straight years of selecting a Texas player after choosing Studdard in the sixth round of last year’s draft.
“It's a life's dream becoming a reality,” Okam said. “It's something I thought about since I was a little kid and it's finally come to pass. I'm almost speechless. On top of that, I get to stay in the state of Texas and getting to move to a great city like Houston is really a blessing.
“It's definitely a great thing having a former teammate down there, especially when it's a great guy like Kasey. I think him going through the whole process last year will really help me. It will be good to have a familiar face there. We've actually been working out together in the off-season for a while, but now I can talk to him about the team and what it is like down there, so I should be able to use him as a resource and hopefully, that will make my transition a little easier.”
It is also the third time overall in the organization’s history to choose a Texas player after picking WR Sloan Thomas in the seventh round of the 2004 draft.
“It's definitely a great organization. I actually met with them a few weeks before the draft and met all the personnel. I really feel like it's a team that is going in the right direction. They’re in a very tough division, obviously, but they had a great season last year finishing 8-8 and just missing the playoffs.”