Even though it was 18 years ago, one of the top draft picks in Saints history has a vivid recollection of his process in joining the NFL. For 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist William Roaf, who was selected by New Orleans with the eighth overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, he remembers all the hard work and experiences involved with him making the transformation from a senior tackle at Louisiana Tech to coming to the Crescent City that April 25.
When Roaf was an Outland Trophy finalist as a senior, when he yielded only one sack, it became evident that that the NFL would be his next stop. Following the Hula Bowl and Shrine All-Star Game that he participated in, he signed with an agent and left the Deep South to travel to Colorado to train with several other NFL hopefuls, among them Notre Dame running back Jerome Bettis.
While the consensus one-two picks in 1993 were quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer, the 6-5, 312-pounder knew that there would be a lot of competition to land in the top 10, especially at his position, with another viable candidate in Lincoln Kennedy, who was coming from Pac 10 powerhouse Washington. What would follow for the next three months was an intensive fine-tuning physically and mentally in preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine, Louisiana Tech's Pro Day and visits to NFL teams.
"I was training and working out most of the time that winter and spring," said Roaf. "I wanted to do well at the combine and there would also be a Pro Day at Louisiana Tech in April."
Mixed in with these two events, where his measurables and workout statistics matched up well with the game tape from his college career, were visits to several clubs. In addition Kennedy didn't work out at the combine, giving Roaf an edge.
While he made visits to several teams, New Orleans, which had the 26th pick in the draft at that time wasn't on the list. An April trip to the Arizona Cardinals, who had the fourth pick, piqued his interest
"I remember going to Arizona and they were having some offseason on-field activities at the time and one of the linemen there I got to meet was (two-time Super Bowl champion) Mark May," said Roaf. I remember getting with John Matsko, who was a very interesting guy and would end up being my line coach in New Orleans my second year and really helped me develop and play at a consistent level."
Around the same time of his pro day and team visits, Roaf also received an invitation from the NFL to appear at the draft in New York, a sign of his potential status. He brought his family and a few of his closest friends to the Big Apple. Following a pre-draft dinner on Friday, April 24 with fellow hopefuls, Roaf and his traveling party enjoyed some of the sights of New York before turning in for the evening.
"It was the first time we were in New York and we had a great time," said Roaf. "I still remember waking up Saturday eating breakfast and hanging out with the guys, waiting to see where I would get drafted. Overall it was a great experience, taking in the whole moment, waiting for my name to be called."
Although Roaf was still in the dark about where he would land, New Orleans started to look like a possibility. The Saints were in the process of engineering a draft day trade with the Detroit Lions in which they would send LB Pat Swilling to the Motor City and acquire the eighth pick in the draft and a fourth rounder as well. Eight picks into the day, the Saints decided to keep Roaf in Louisiana, acquiring an anchor to their offensive line who would move over to left tackle in 1994 and be selected to seven straight Pro Bowls.
"I didn't know the Saints were going to get the eighth pick and choose me," said Roaf. "When they did that and picked me, I was very, very, excited knowing I was going to be staying close to home and playing for the New Orleans Saints."
After going up on the dais, wearing a Saints with the number one imprinted on it and doing the typical post-pick interviews, Roaf would meet a future teammate 12 picks later, when the Saints traded up with the Cardinals to acquire the 20th pick and choose Notre Dame tight end Irv Smith, a New Jersey native, who was also present at the draft. Following Smith's selection, the families of the two newly minted Saints celebrated over dinner. The two became good friends; however Roaf still claims ownership of the day's most prized memorabilia.
"I still have that number one Saints jersey, because Irv went after me," said Roaf. "I still have it hanging up and framed at my house."
However, the celebrations would not last very long after that evening in New York City. Two weeks later, Roaf reported for his first minicamp, participated in a second one in June. In late July, prior to the start of training camp the tackle and the Saints reached agreement on a four-year contract, which ensured that he'd be penciled in at right tackle, where he would play every snap and earn all-rookie honors.
"I just wanted to get in to camp off to a good start," said Roaf. "I remember Bob Whitfield (No. 8 pick in 1992) got off to a late start and didn't start in his rookie year. They gave me a big contract and I know that Mr. Benson, Bill Kuharich and the front office were expecting me to come in and play."
Roaf credits that start as a rookie with giving the momentum which carried over to a 13-year career that moved him over to the left side in his sophomore season and resulted in 11 Pro Bowl berths before his retirement after the 2005 campaign. Enjoying retirement in his California residence and on the potential doorstep of hopeful election to Canton in 2012, he looks at the hopefuls for the upcoming draft and emphasizes for them to take advantage of the opportunities in front.
"You have to keep working hard and not get caught up in if you were drafted high," said Roaf. "You have a chance to make a real good living in the NFL. Take advantage of it. Take advantage of it. In my first year, my biggest challenges were coming from a smaller school and getting a good understanding of the defenses. Once you are drafted you will need to learn as much as you can, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where there is a lot more than in college."