Wearing a crushed red velvet sports coat, Kentucky's Bud Dupree walked the gold carpet before the NFL Draft and stopped to talk with the Wildcats TV crew.
"It's an awesome opportunity for me and my family," he said with a wide smile. "It's a dream come true."
That dream became a reality a couple of hours later when Dupree was selected with the 22nd overall pick in the draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who never thought they'd be able to land Dupree that deep into the draft.
Many prognosticators had the UK defensive end/linebacker going as high as No. 6 in the draft, held at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre Thursday night.
Never miss a local story.
"This is a gift for us to be able to get this guy at No. 22," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said shortly after the pick was made official.
"He may be disappointed at the spot he got picked in," Colbert said of Dupree, "but I think he'll be happy he's with us just as we're happy to have him."
Colbert and Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin were at Kentucky's Pro Day on March 12 to see Dupree and others work out.
As Dupree kept running through drills, the Steelers general manager said he had to keep reminding himself the senior is 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds.
"He doesn't look that big until you get up close to him," Colbert said of Dupree, who will start his NFL career at left side linebacker for the Steelers. "We feel like we got an impact player in Bud Dupree."
Dupree's versatility was a huge selling point, the general manager and head coach said Thursday night.
It was something former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden echoed in the network's draft coverage, noting Dupree's "position versatility.
"It's hard to find a young man with this combination of strength, speed and power," he said.
Dupree did all he could to answer questions and silence critics at the NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash and had a vertical jump of 42 inches, which was second best among linebackers since 2006. He also had a broad jump of 11 feet, 6 inches, best at his spot.
"His workout numbers are ridiculous," ESPN analyst Todd McShay said in a recent conference call. "God only makes a handful of these type of guys, so you have the tools there to develop, there's no question about it."
The Irwinton, Ga., native became just the third UK player to be drafted in the first round in the past 30 years, along with quarterback Tim Couch (No. 1 to Cleveland in 1999) and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson (No. 4 to the New York Jets in 2003).
He is the third UK player in as many seasons to get drafted, with offensive lineman Larry Warford going to the Lions in the third round in 2013 and linebacker Avery Williamson going to the Titans in the fifth round last year.
Before the draft, Gruden called Dupree an elite talent and continued to elaborate on Thursday.
"I like the way he competes," the analyst said. "He even played better two years ago. I've seen him set the edge in a 3-4 defense and can light them up inside as he did a couple years ago. He has position versatility."
Dupree made life difficult for plenty of offenses in his UK career, where he record the second-most sacks in school history (23.5).
He finished his career with 247 tackles, 38 for a loss, four forced fumbles and five passes defended.
Last season, in which he was Kentucky's second-leading tackler with 74 tackles, 12.5 for a loss and 7.5 sacks, he also had five quarterback hurries and a key interception to seal the win over South Carolina.
UK Coach Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh were at the draft Thursday.
During the spring, Stoops never tired of answering questions about one of his team leaders.
"He's just a guy we're all very proud of," Stoops said at the start of spring practice when the head coach had heard from a plethora of NFL teams. "He's worked extremely hard. He deserves everything he gets."
Dupree was the 11th player coached by Stoops to become a first-round draft pick.
Other UK prospects
The draft will continue with the second and third rounds Friday night and rounds three through seven on Saturday.
Defensive end Za'Darius Smith, most valuable player of the East-West Shrine Game, is expected to be the next UK player taken, probably in the third or fourth round.
"When I was watching Bud Dupree play for the Wildcats, Smith kept popping off the tape, as well," analyst Doug Farrar said. "He's a 6-4, 274-pound multigap player who looks best as a run-stopping end. ... Once an NFL line coach gets hold of him and squares away his technique, Smith could be special."
■ Offensive lineman Darrian Miller, running back Braylon Heard, wide receiver Javess Blue and fullback D.J. Warren are candidates to be taken late on Day 3.