One former San Luis Obispo County high school football standout had his name called late in NFL Draft, and two close friends and Cal Poly teammates got their calls soon after the picks ended Saturday.
Portland State right tackle Mitchell Van Dyk, a Paso Robles High product, was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the 11th pick in the seventh and final round, 226th overall.
Roommates throughout their careers with the Mustangs, defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz and linebacker Johnny Millard signed as undrafted free agents. Grosz, the co-Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, will join the Houston Texans at rookie minicamp next week. Millard is on his way to join the St. Louis Rams.
Cal Poly slotback Cole Stanford said he received minicamp invites from the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers but was holding out hope for a contract offer.
Though 6-foot-8 and 315 pounds, Van Dyk represents the little guy. The offensive lineman is the rare Bearcats and Vikings draftee.
“Don’t overlook the small town and the small schools,” Van Dyk said. “There’s always great players that come from these places. Most of the times people overlook us to see the big city with lots of players.”
He’s the first Portland State player to get drafted since the Denver Broncos took tight end Julius Thomas in the fourth round in 2011.
From Paso Robles, linebacker Don Parish was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth round, 91st overall in the 1970 draft. A pair of Paso Robles products, halfback Frank Minini and fullback Hamp Pool, were drafted in the 1940s.
Van Dyk was somewhat of a late bloomer. Coached by dad Mark since he was 9, Van Dyk didn’t become a prospect with true NFL aspirations until his senior season at Paso Robles in 2008, when he moved from tight end to tackle.
Though Van Dyk played his last four Portland State seasons under head coach Nigel Burton, he was recruited by and played one season for former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville with the Vikings.
Paso Robles High head coach Rich Schimke recalled Glanville planting seeds for Van Dyk’s NFL potential on a recruiting visit.
“I finally started growing my body and understanding the game more,” Van Dyk said. “I just kind of overcame my senior year, just kind gained the confidence and knowledge of being in the games. I could definitely see myself playing ball in the future.”
Van Dyk went through an extreme growth spurt as a teen. He sprouted between four and five inches after his freshman year, and it took a while for the rest of his body to catch up.
When he arrived for his redshirt freshman season at Portland State, he weighed 220 pounds. That was 95 pounds ago.
A three-year starter and two-time lineman of the year for the Vikings, Van Dyk helped the program break six offensive records during a first-team all-Big Sky performance this past season.
Portland State set program records for rushing yards (3,330), rushing average (277.7), total offense (6,486), average total offense (540.5) and rushing touchdowns (36).
Set to walk with a degree in criminal justice in June, Van Dyk said he will ship out to the Rams’ first rookie minicamp Wednesday.
“I’m just really excited,” Van Dyk said. “I don’t want to party tonight. I want to go on a run and start stretching because I’m a little nervous, but I’m going to have fun.”
Grosz said the Texans made repeated calls to him expressing interest late in the draft, but the Texans used their last three picks on LSU running back Alfred Blue, Auburn fullback Jay Prosch and Vanderbilt cornerback Dre Hall.
But things moved quickly.
Houston quickly offered Grosz a free-agent deal, and his dad, Stan, celebrated the news on Twitter, prompting some to declare Stan Grosz had been signed.
But, Sullivan Grosz said, as an accomplishment, the signing is something to be enjoyed by his parents as much as anyone else.
It wasn’t long before a photo of Sullivan decked out in Texans gear began making the social media rounds.
“Immediately, my parents said, ‘Let’s go get some hats and shirts,’ ” Grosz said. “And I said, ‘You guys don’t realize I’m going to get this stuff for free in a week,’ and they’re like, ‘I don’t care.’ It’s as much for me as it is for my parents and everything they’ve done for me. I’m happy for them.”
If he earns a spot with the team, Grosz would join a defensive line already including all-pro J.J. Watt and No. 1 overall selection Jadeveon Clowney.
“J.J. Watt is quite the player to work under, and any chance to back up that kind of guy and learn from what he’s done, it’s amazing,” Grosz said. “I want to be a part of that, and hopefully I can contribute.”
Thanks to his friendship with Millard, Grosz has already gotten plenty of high-level instruction from Millard’s father, Keith, an NFL assistant coach who once held the NFL record for sacks by a defensive tackle in a single season.
Each season, Grosz and Johnny Millard have taken time to join Keith in whichever city he was coaching at the time to work out.
Johnny Millard was also hoping to be drafted and likened watching the last few rounds to waiting for a baby’s birth.
Prior to the draft, several teams told Johnny Millard to stay near his phone during the draft. He ended up falling out of the draft but quickly zeroed in on St. Louis, but that didn’t make the process any easier.
“Sitting there watching the draft was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Millard said. “It’s nerve-racking, man. I paid attention every other pick as I see linebackers’ names go off the board. People I played against, people I played with, who I’m extremely happy for. It’s like you’re waiting for a baby to be born. So much anticipation.”