Former University of Memphis defensive standout Dontari Poe continues to impress and carry the mantle of his school.
Poe, who seared his name into national consciousness by proving himself to be one of the three strongest men in college football at a camp last summer, has skyrocketed up draft boards around the NFL. He is currently projected to be picked ninth in this year's draft, by the Carolina Panthers.
If the predictions are correct, it would make Poe the highest-drafted Tiger since DeAngelo Williams (27th pick in 2006 by the same Panthers) and tie him for highest draft position ever by a Tiger. Defensive back Keith Simpson was the No. 9 pick in the 1978 draft by the Seattle Seahawks, currently the highest draft postion in the history of the school's football program.
What's more, Poe is guaranteed an unprecedented accomplishment: he has been invited to the most exclusive Draft watch party in America, the NFL green room on Draft Day, April 26, 2012.
We found this out when we bumped into Poe at the Blue-Gray spring exhibition game Saturday at the Liberty Bowl. When asked if he had special plans as to where he was going to watch the draft, the mountainous Poe (6'5", 350) dropped his head and said shyly:
"Well, yeah, I have some plans," he began. "I've been invited to the green room."
Each year, a select number of potential draftees are invited to attend the proceedings in person. Cameras follow their every move as the young men wait for their names to be called. They can then go on stage, meet the commish, shake hands with their new general manager/head coach, and generally soak in the festivities.
It's one of the highest honors a collegian can experience, exceeded, perhaps, by being invited to the Downtwon Athletic Club for the Heisman trophy announcement. Arizona State alumnus Brock Osweiler excitedly tweeted the following last week when he received his invitation:
"Just received a green room invitation from the NFL! So appreciative and thankful to be asked! Been a dream of mine since I was 8 years old."
Or this statement from LSU's Morris Claiborne:
"I'm very excited. As a kid you dream about those things, going up to New York, being in the green room, bringing your family."
Poe, however, remains stunned by his invitation.
"When I was playing at Wooddale, I never once dreamed anything like this would happen," he admits with refreshing candor. "Even when I was playing well last year, I just didn't think about it."
To understand why Poe's NFL stock continues to rise so steadily, one need only monitor the reports on him coming from NFL pre-draft combines. Poe's performances on various benchmarks are being described as freakish. He's running the 40 in an amazing 4.87 seconds, better than some linebackers, despite the 350 pounds on his frame.
Furthermore, he's big and strong enough to play the nose in a 3-4 defense but quick enough to be a classic tackle on the inside of a 4-3. We're talking a Ndamukong Suh or Haloti Ngata-type who has the potential to be dominant along the defensive line for years to come.
Yet he still takes the time to attend the University of Memphis Blue-Gray scrimmage; why?
"These guys are my brothers," he said. "I've gotta come out and support them."
Poe has become a jet-setter, flying back-and-forth to combines and workouts. He left out on Sunday and likely won't be back in Memphis for the foreseeable future. When he does return to spend some time with his mother and family, he'll be a Number One draft pick for some fortunate NFL franchise. Not bad for a humble kid from Wooddale High School, not bad at all.
Leroy Watson, Jr. is the Managing Editor of TigerSportsReport.com, and may be reached via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@leroywatsonjr)