Mark Walton had never spoken to a single person from the Cincinnati Bengals organization — until his phone rang Saturday afternoon and he said he saw "Cincinnati, Ohio'' on the screen.
"I was in shock at the moment,'' Walton said. "I never talked to them, never worked out for them, never visited them. I had no clue.
"I know nothing about the Cincinnati Bengals — except that they have a great running back out of the University of Miami named Mark Walton and he's ready to go to work.''
On a fruitful but nerve-racking Saturday, five Miami Hurricanes realized their NFL dreams, including running back Walton (fourth round, 112th overall). The others to go in a flurry that began at noon and lasted seven hours: tight end Christopher Herndon IV (fourth round, 107th overall) to the New York Jets; defensive tackle RJ McIntosh (fifth round, 139th overall) to the New York Jets; receiver Braxton Berrios (sixth round, 210th overall) to the New England Patriots; and defensive tackle Kendrick Norton (seventh and final round, 242nd overall) to the Carolina Panthers.
Defensive end Chad Thomas had the honor on Friday of being the first Cane to be drafted in 2018, the Cleveland Browns' third pick of the third round, and 67th overall.
Last year UM had nine drafted, including first-rounder David Njoku to Cleveland, who left UM after his redshirt sophomore season.
Three Hurricanes entered the NFL Draft as underclassmen this year, and all three got drafted, though it seemed for a long while that Norton, the run-stopping defensive tackle who plugged up the middle of a talented Hurricanes front line, might get shut out. Most analysts, and the NFL College Advisory Committee, said he and McIntosh should have stayed in school.
McIntosh, who said his recently diagnosed hyperthyroid condition likely dropped him lower than he would have normally been, reiterated that he stood by his decision to come out early. He said he was "understandably frustrated'' until he was finally wanted by the Giants — the team he grew up rooting against as a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan. "When I got the call I had a little pause. I went from nervous to excited in an instant. My mom was the one outside with me and she started crying. I shed a tear or two with her, tears of joy."
McIntosh, suddenly a Giants fan, said he's never been to New York. "But I heard it's beautiful year round and exciting around Christmas time. There are crazy good fans in New York.''
Walton, who was about to board a plane on his way to New York to visit his uncle that serves in the military, couldn't believe that the one team that never crossed his mind was the one that picked him. "I've been doing a lot of research on Cincinnati, the team and the city where I'm going to live,'' said Walton, who left school after his junior year and has a 1-year-old daughter and siblings to help support after their mother died last year.
Walton is the first Hurricane to be drafted by Cincinnati since former quarterback Scott Covington was taken by the Bengals in the seventh round in 1999.
"Of course I was crying,'' he said of the moment he realized he had reached his dream. "I told you I'd cry. I'm in the league. All I asked for was an opportunity, and that's what I got today. Nothing wrong with being a fourth-round pick. I'm just proud to be a Hurricane and proud to be a Bengal.''
The pick that seemed to stir the biggest frenzy on social media was when Berrios went to the Patriots, the organization that seemingly everyone in the world thought he'd end up representing. But it had to be an excruciating wait, as some analysts had him going as high as the fourth round.
"It's OK, I'm used to this,'' Berrios tweeted at about 4 p.m. , about an hour before he was chosen.
"I'M A PATRIOT BABY!!!!!'' he tweeted after getting the coveted call. "#PATSNATION.''
The Canes not drafted included cornerback Dee Delaney, offensive lineman Kc McDermott, defensive tackle Anthony Moten, defensive end Trent Harris, offensive lineman Trevor Darling and kicker Michael Badgley. Most, if not all, are expected to sign contracts as free agents.
Among them, Badgley will sign with the Indianapolis Colts, per his agent; Harris, with the Patriots, said his mother, Betsy Harris; McDermott, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, per his tweet on social media; Moten, with the Dolphins, per the Sun-Sentinel; Delaney, with the Jaguars, per Lowcountry Sports, which covers Delaney's hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina; and C&N Sports Group announced on social media that Darling has a tryout with Cleveland.