University of Kentucky seniors David Jones, Tim Masthay, Johnny Williams, Marcus McClinton, Ventrell Jenkins and Garry Williams were all glued to the television on Sunday, hoping to hear their names called in the later rounds of the NFL Draft.
That didn't happen, but all six players will get an opportunity to make rosters next season as free agents.
Jones signed with the Baltimore Ravens, Masthay with the Indianapolis Colts, Johnny Williams with his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars, McClinton with the New England Patriots, Jenkins with the Buffalo Bills and Garry Williams with the Carolina Panthers.
Masthay received interest from Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago but decided on the Colts, who lost longtime punter Hunter Smith to Washington in the off-season. Masthay will have to beat out West Virginia punter Pat McAfee, who was drafted in the seventh round, but his ability to kick off should be an asset.
"I'm actually friends with Pat," Masthay said. "We were roommates at a kicking camp last year, and he's a great guy. He's sort of their guy coming in, but they still expressed to me that they wanted me to come there. There would have been competition wherever I went. I just felt Indianapolis was the best situation for me."
Jones said he was down after not getting drafted and said his phone didn't ring at all on Sunday. But a call from the Ravens finally came on Monday morning. Jones said Oakland called UK special teams coach and former Raiders assistant Steve Ortmayer later that day, and Cleveland also called. By that time, though, he had already signed with Baltimore.
The Ravens are banged up in the secondary and drafted just one other defensive back, Nicholls State corner Lardarius Webb, so Jones feels good about his chances to make the roster and see the field as a rookie.
"I was down all night," Jones said. "But I woke up this morning at 8 o'clock, and (the Ravens) called me and said, 'You ready to be a Raven?' I was like, 'Yes, sir.' I'll get to play with great players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed."
UK had one draftee this year, defensive tackle Myron Pryor, who went in the sixth round to the Patriots. McClinton is thrilled to be joining his college teammate.
"They like quality people and quality players, and it's the kind of organization that can take a hard-working player like me and turn him into a star," McClinton said.
Johnny Williams said he was surprised that he wasn't drafted, but he's excited to be going to Jacksonville, where he was a star at Fletcher High School in nearby Neptune Beach.
He said he'll try to follow Wesley Woodyard's lead in being an undrafted linebacker that works his way into the lineup.
"It can be done," Williams said. "If you can play, you can play."
Williams said he doesn't think that playing in his hometown will be a distraction.
"My family and friends are very excited, but they're just going to have to back off and let me work," he said.
Four Wildcats were selected in the 2008 draft: tight end Jacob Tamme (fourth round, Colts); receiver Keenan Burton (fourth round, Rams), quarterback Andre Woodson (sixth round, Giants) and receiver Steve Johnson (seventh round, Bills).
But there's still a perception at Kentucky that UK players get undervalued come draft time. The coaching staff expressed shock last year when Woodson, who at one time was projected as a first-round pick, fell to the sixth. Woodyard, a first-team All-SEC linebacker, went undrafted before signing a free-agent contract with the Denver Broncos and starting six games as a rookie.
McClinton said NFL prospects from Kentucky will have to earn respect.
"It's still a work in progress as far as making Kentucky one of those teams that consistently puts out mid-round or first-round players," he said. "We've got to continue to go to bowl games, get into the BCS, and compete for an SEC Championship and a national championship. ... Until then, people are going to look at us as athletes from Kentucky. 'We'll give them a shot, but we don't know if we're going to spend any money on them.' "