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NFL Draft: Rams move up to draft Austin

NEW YORK -- From the end of his high school career to the start of his professional career, teams have always wanted Tavon Austin and gone out of their way to acquire everything he can do.

The highly recruited player from Baltimore's Dunbar High and the wildly decorated speedster from West Virginia, Austin's ascent to the top of the NFL Draft concluded Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall as the St. Louis Rams traded four picks to move up eight spots to No. 8 and select Austin.

"That means they really wanted me," said the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Austin, who had a pair of meetings with the Rams last week. "It all paid off with me going all the way there for a visit. They put me on their board (to go over plays). I met with their staff and they came back to Morgantown to watch me. I kind of had a feeling they were interested in me."

It's always been this way for Austin, though. The Mountaineers swiped Austin from the backyard of the University of Maryland, where Austin's older cousin, Aaron Thompson, played linebacker. Assistant coach Lonnie Galloway was sent to recruit Austin from the neighborhood not too far and not much unlike the set of the HBO drama "The Wire."

"I went in there just to see what would happen," said Galloway, who was Austin's coach his first two seasons before Galloway went to Wake Forest the past two years and then returned to WVU in January. "I knew who he was. He didn't know who I was. But we hit it off. I didn't go in there thinking I couldn't get him. I went in with the mindset that we were going to do everything we could legally to get him. And it worked out."

That it did, to the total of 4,446 yards and 35 touchdowns on offense and another 2,840 yards and five touchdowns on special teams.  Galloway's summary doesn't tell it all. It's too simple, like saying the Rams merely drafted Austin and omitting that they traded all those other picks. It's not even sufficient when Galloway says the two never really talked about football and instead chose to spend their time learning about one other and catching up on what they'd been up to since they last spoke.

Sooner or later in recruiting, that gets old and that's why Galloway introduced another character to enhance the offer, much like the Rams did with the Buffalo Bills.

"He talked to Miss Galloway a whole lot," said Galloway.

Miss Galloway would be the coach's wife, Winslow, who put her own spin on the environment that would welcome and help raise Austin at WVU.

"She was there to have somebody away from home that he knew would be there for him," Lonnie Galloway said. "As a coach, we're not going to tell him what he wants to hear all the time. He talked to Miss Galloway a lot when we were here. We still talk to him and he still talks to her now. When I'm recruiting a kid, I want him to feel like I'm bringing him, whether I'm going to be his coach or not, into my family."

Austin's surroundings would change at WVU. After Galloway left, Dana Holgorsen was promoted from coach-in-waiting in place of the ousted Bill Stewart. Holgorsen had been excited to maximize Austin's abilities from the first time he walked through the Puskar Center. His tour guide was Oliver Luck and the athletic director offered a tip that would open Holgorsen's eyes to what he'd experience the next two seasons.

"The first thing he did was point to a picture of Tavon Austin and say, 'You need to get that guy the ball as much as you can,'" the WVU coach remembered Tuesday.

Holgorsen followed orders as much as he followed the irresistible urge to facilitate a player who was the first skill position player drafted. Austin would touch the ball more than 300 times in two seasons with Holgorsen and nearly 12 times per game.  

Austin joins a brand new brood now, but not before giving WVU one more piece of history. In addition to all the game, season and career records he set for rushing, receiving or returning punts or kickoffs, he gave the Mountaineers first-round picks in consecutive seasons for the first time ever. The Seattle Seahawks picked defensive end Bruce Irvin at No. 15 last year.

The Rams were just as eager to take Austin, too. Fearful of the New York Jets at No. 9, St. Louis surrendered Nos. 16, 46, 78 and 222 to get to Nos.  8 and 71. Austin said he spoke with Rams Coach Jeff Fisher, who set up plans for Austin to arrive at the team facility today and prepare for his new life.

"He said, 'You're a part of the family now,'" Austin said.

St. Louis plays eight home games a year on artificial turf inside the Edward Jones Dome, which was also home to the "Greatest Show on Turf" in the days of quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim and running back Marshall Faulk, who Austin said was one of his favorite players when he was a kid who figured his future was as a running back.

He's a receiver now and addresses a major need. The Rams lost slot receiver Danny Amendola to free agency after Amendola, who played for Holgorsen at Texas Tech, signed with the New England Patriots. Amendola caught 196 passes for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns in four seasons with the Rams.

While Austin's spot wasn't a surprise, the plight of Austin's quarterback, Geno Smith, was. Commonly regarded as the best quarterback available, Smith was heavily scrutinized as the draft neared and watched from a backstage area as Florida State's E.J. Manuel went to the Buffalo Bills at No. 16.  

"People are missing his drive for the game," Austin said. "They're missing the whole thing about the way he approaches the game. They don't see the emotion he's got for the game. People can say all they want about him, but if you're not really there, if you don't know him as a person, it's hard for you to really judge him.

"At the end of the day, I played with him for four years. I know what type of person he is. I know he's going to give 100 percent every day at practice and then he's going to go off on the side and do all the work he has to do to be ready."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blogis at


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