USM draftees excited to get shot at NFL dream

USM draftees excited to get shot at NFL dream
USM (9-9, 2-3), which saw a two-game winning streak snapped. (Photo source: USM)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Cornell Armstrong said he had more than an inkling that his prayers to get a shot to play in the National Football League might just be answered.

After all, he had visited the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers and sat down with a Dolphins' scout to watch tape of his play from the 2017 season.

Still, Armstrong said when the call came Sunday to let him know that the Dolphins intended to take him with a sixth-round pick, he found the moment a bit overwhelming.

"My family was crying, I started crying," said Armstrong, a 6-f00t, 183-pound cornerback from Bassfield. "I just want to give a shout-out to God, because many people didn't think I'd get drafted. A lot of people didn't, and God came through for me. I just kept praying. I did what I could do, controlled what I could control and let Him do the rest."

Armstrong and teammate Tarvarius Moore met with the media earlier this week to talk about their once-in-a-lifetime  weekend when they were among three Golden Eagles receiving the long-hoped for call to say they had been drafted  by an NFL franchise.

"Lot of excitement," said Moore, a 6-2, 193-puns safety from Quitman, who was taken Saturday in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers. "I had a good bit of my family there. Just being near my mom, my grandfather, all my uncles, I even had an uncle fly down from Chicago for it.

"Just a lot of love and excitement. I had a lot of support there. It was a moment I'll never forget."

Fellow USM senior, running back Ito Smith, completed the trio. Smith, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound, native of Mobile, Ala., was taken Sunday in the fourth round by the Atlanta Falcons

It was the first time three Golden Eagles had been drafted during the seven-round selection process since 2004, when linebacker Rod Davis (fifth round, Minnesota Vikings), cornerback Greg Brooks (sixth round, Cincinnati Bengals) and safety Etric Pruitt (sixth round, Falcons) were drafted.

"It's such a blessing, man," Armstrong said. "We didn't even know that until we saw it on Twitter. I don't even know how to explain it. It's just a great feeling.

Moore became the highest-drafted Golden Eagle since 2014, when defensive tackle Khyri Thornton went in the third round to the Packers.

"Before the season, no," Moore said when asked if he expected to be taken that high. "A lot of teams had me scouted as a seventh-round or priority free agent. So, to go from that to the third (round), it's a surreal feeling."

But both players said their performances at an on-campus Pro Day in March caught the attention of the representatives of professional teams.

"A little after the season, my name was getting some buzz, but definitely after the pro day," Moore said. "The scouts, they knew I was pretty fast and that I could jump, but after the pro day, putting it out there like that and showing it matches what's on the film, I definitely blew them away, opened up a lot of eyes. The interest definitely took off then."

Moore said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds, hit better than 39 inches in the vertical jump and more than 11 feet in the standing broad jump.

Armstrong said while he felt like his play during the season played a large part in the interest, his Pro Day workout also turned some heads. Armstrong said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, hit 37 ½ inches in the vertical and went 10 ½ feet in the standing broad jump.

"I would say both, but I feel like my pro day stats opened up a bunch of eyes," Armstrong said. "Didn't anyone think I could run that fast or jump that high. I think I opened up some eyes and got a few teams to go back look at my tape and give me another chance."

Moore said after his workout, he knew his profile had gotten a boost, but he still wasn't sure what toe expect last weekend.

"Some teams texted me before the draft, expressing interest that they would like to take me, but things happen in the draft, teams moving up and down, stuff like that," Moore said. "But as the time was getting close for San Francisco to come up, they called me, and I had a talk with the general manager, John Lynch, and he was like, 'Sit tight. We're trying to make you a 49er,' and it all worked out."

Two other Golden Eagles, receiver Korey Robertson and cornerback Curtis Mikell, went undrafted, but were later invited as free agents to rookie camps.

Robertson, a 6-3, 215-pound Greenwood native, signed with the Minnesota Vikings, while Mikell, a 5-9, 170-pound Bassfield native, will try out with the Los Angeles Rams.

Along with the conversation with Lynch, a former All-Pro safety, Moore said he also heard from some the of the current 49ers, including former USM quarterback Nick Mullens.

"They just let me know they supported me and were ready for me come in and get to work," Moore said.

Armstrong said he had received a congratulatory tweet from Patrick Surtain, who was a standout with the Dolphins a generation ago.

"I told him I wanted to meet him, but I don't think he tweeted back," Armstrong said. "Hopefully, I'll get to catch up with him when I'm down there."

Armstrong said he wasn't concerned about making the adjustment to the bright lights-big city atmosphere he is headed for after coming up in a small town in Mississippi.

"(Coach), he called me Big Country because I'm from the country," Armstrong said. "But I'm going to enjoy it, have fun and just play my role."

Armstrong said he and Mikell and Moore and Robertson and Smith all can stand as examples to those coming behind them.

"I think it might motivate the younger kids, let's them know no matter where you come from, a small school, large school, it doesn't matter," Armstrong said. "They'll find you."

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