Jerry Robinson got embarrassed by his mother. Tony Moll was awakened from a nap and didn’t know if he was dreaming — twice. Mel Gray had to read it in the newspaper. Their experiences were very different, but each of them vividly remembers the day he became an NFL player.
Now Philip Wright III — affectionately known as “Scooby” — is hoping to join them. Wright, who played linebacker at Cardinal Newman High School and then at the University of Arizona, is expected to be selected in this year’s NFL draft, which begins Thursday evening with the first round and continues through Friday and Saturday.
If so, he will be the 12th Redwood Empire athlete to be drafted by an NFL team and also to play in the league. It’s a small procession that began with Petaluma High’s Duke Iverson in 1947 and most recently included Montgomery’s Koa Misi in 2010.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Gray said, remembering when the St. Louis Cardinals made him a sixth-round draft choice in 1971. “I said golly, I’ve never made that much money. I can help my wife, help my family. But it was not as much money as it is today.”
Indeed, Gray made $17,000 his first year with the Cardinals — after owner Bill Bidwill had promised him $21,000 in a handshake agreement.
Ready to go fishing
The landscape had changed dramatically by 2006. The NFL draft wasn’t a primetime show yet, but it had grown into a true media colossus, with wall-to-wall TV coverage, miles of action footage and Mel Kiper Jr. blabbering endlessly.
And yet Moll, who attended Sonoma Valley High, had little idea of his prospects. He had mostly played tight end at the University of Nevada, but switched to offensive tackle for his senior season. He was not invited to the NFL scouting combine, though his athleticism had made a few teams take notice.
Moll knew he had no chance to be drafted in the first three rounds, so he didn’t pay much attention on Day 1. He had trouble sleeping that night, though, knowing Day 2 was a possibility. Moll woke up to the buzzing of his cell phone. Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Tony Sparano was calling.
“He started talking really fast, like, ‘We’re gonna take you right away!’ ” Moll said. “A surge of emotion came over me. Is this a dream? What’s going on?”
Sparano asked Moll what he was doing up so early, and the big lineman, still half-asleep, repeated the first idea that popped into his mind: He was getting ready to go fishing.
“It was the only thing I could think of,” said Moll, 32, who is back in Sonoma and working as a mortgage banker with Pinnacle Capital Mortgage. “Now am I a football player who’s more interested in fishing than the draft?”
Whatever the reason, the Cowboys did not draft Moll in the fourth round. Or the fifth. He sat in his parents’ home in Sonoma and waited.
“Nate Burleson, who was a standout wide receiver at Nevada, I remember talking to him previously,” Moll recounted. “He said, ‘I fell asleep on the couch.’ For some reason, I had that stuck in my head. All day long I was glued to the TV, trying to figure out, ‘OK, they’re taking an O-lineman,’ or whatever. Of course, I fell asleep on the couch.”