NFL Draft: Tavon Austin can now make a better life for his family
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There was a moment during a lengthy interview session with Tavon Austin at the Big 12's media days in July when he spoke about goals and desires, presumably as they related to football. Austin said he needed -- as opposed to wanted -- to move his mother and grandmother out of their home in Baltimore.
"It's not a gated community with brick houses and all of that," said WVU assistant coach Lonnie Galloway, who recruited Austin out of Dunbar High before Austin signed with the Mountaineers in 2009. "Where Dunbar is ... is a tough area, but if you surround yourself with the right people, you can make it out."
It happened for Austin Thursday night, when he was picked eighth overall in the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall, where he was surrounded again by the people who helped make it happen. There was his mother, Cathy Green, and his grandmother, Louann Green. There were aunts and cousins and friends and the line of embraces delayed Austin's arrival on the stage for a hug from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The smile was impossible to hide. Wearing a maroon suit and tie to match his high school's colors, Austin knew in the back of his head his move to the NFL meant a move for his mother and grandmother.
"The goal was to get my mother and my grandmother out of the city," Austin said. "I don't know if they want to leave, but I'll definitely get them a better house in a gated community so they don't have to worry about living in the hood. That was my No. 1 goal and that's happening now."
It was a long time coming. Austin remembers dreaming of the NFL when he was 7 years old. He had older cousins who played the game. They were Austin's role models and they toughened him for a game that wasn't so kind to someone his size. His mother ran track when she was younger and she used to chase her son down until one day Austin was just too fast. She and Louann were the first to encourage Austin to use his gift.
"Don't run in this house all day," they would say before sending him outside.
It wasn't always safe there, though. Austin said that during one four-week period during his senior season, three of his friends were shot and killed there. It was a reminder that he needed to make the most of his opportunity and it heightened his urgency to make life better for his family.
It's imminent now. According to OverTheCap.com, the No. 8 pick in the draft will sign a four-year contract worth about $12.7 million with around $7.6 of that guaranteed. His salary would top out at $4 million in 2016 and a fifth-year team option would be worth the average salary of the top 10 receivers in the league. If the team picks up the option after Austin's third season, the fifth-year salary is guaranteed.
According to 2013 salaries, the average salary of the 10 highest-paid receivers is more than $6.8 million and that would only rise by the time Austin is eligible for the option.
"I'm definitely going to move them to a nice place outside in the county, Harford County, or something like that, where it's a gated community and I pretty much know they're comfortable while I'm here working and they're back there just waiting for my game days on Sunday," Austin said at his introductory press conference Saturday in St. Louis, where he'll wear No. 11.
The Rams traded four picks to the Buffalo Bills for two of their picks so they could move up from No. 16 to take Austin. St. Louis, which needed to replace departed free agent slot receiver Danny Amendola, met twice with Austin a week before the draft. Aware of his physical assets, the Rams put his acumen to the test.
Austin was quickly schooled on formations, plays and audibles. The offensive coordinator and the receivers coach then called out a play and a defense.
Austin had to diagram everyone and everything involved.
"They gave me a 95 percent, but they also told me, 'That five percent lost the game, Tavon,'" Austin said.
The Rams made life easier for themselves and more familiar for Austin by taking WVU receiver Stedman Bailey in the third round. The contract for the No. 92 pick is for about $2.7 million with about $539,000 guaranteed.
"I would say we're both very dynamic football players," said Bailey, who told reporters he was named after Oprah Winfrey's longtime boyfriend, Stedman Graham. "Tavon is very elusive. You can use Tavon quite a (few) different ways. That's what makes him such a dynamic player. You can line him up in the backfield. You can put him the slot, kick return, punt return. He does all of that extremely well.
"I'm more of a receiver that can line up on the outside. I can get in the slot and work. I'm definitely a guy that can get on special teams."
Bailey had a meeting in St. Louis around the same time as Austin and they worked out together with the Rams in Morgantown.
"A good story from that one is the quarterbacks went and said, 'We thought Stedman was a teammate and was along for the ride. We didn't know who he was,' and they came out of the workout going, 'Wow, that guy is actually a good player,'" Rams General Manager Les Snead said.
Quarterback Geno Smith was also drafted and now enters a crowded situation with the New York Jets. The second-round pick, who can sign a $5 million contract with about $2 million guaranteed to the No. 30 pick, is one of six quarterbacks on the roster, including former first-round pick Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and free agent acquisition David Garrard.
The Jets will have to make room for Smith and that might mean a costly decision to cut Sanchez, now infamous for last season's "butt fumble" against the New England Patriots. Smith has had fumbling problems, too, and he was asked about that in his introductory press conference Sunday.
"I think it needs to improve," he said. "Obviously, at the quarterback position I've got to take care of the ball - 32 fumbles is way too many and I'm going to look to improve on that."
Five other former Mountaineers agreed to undrafted free agent contracts: Offensive linemen Josh Jenkins (Seahawks), Jeff Braun (Ravens) and Joe Madsen (Steelers), running back Shawne Alston (Saints) and receiver J.D. Woods (Steelers).
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.