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Football: Four from area sign after draft

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

A handful of Guyer fans, coaches and former players in a crowd of more than a hundred lifted their cellphones in unison at the Pourhouse late Saturday afternoon, hoping to record a bit of Denton football history.

The NFL draft was winding down and word had spread through the room at Josh Stewart’s party in honor of the occasion that the New York Jets were the team most likely to select the former Guyer and Oklahoma State wide receiver.

A few moans and groans were heard when the Jets passed four times in the sixth round and once in the seventh on Stewart, whose draft dreams went unrealized — just like those of the top North Texas seniors who helped lead the Mean Green to a 9-4 season and a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Going undrafted was a surprise to Stewart, not to mention standout UNT linebacker Zach Orr, who was stunned to see the Mean Green shut out yet again. The Mean Green hasn’t had a player selected in the draft since linebacker Cody Spencer in 2004.

“It definitely motivates me, but I have been motivated all my life by things like this,” Stewart said. “This is another obstacle I am going to find my way through.”

Stewart and UNT’s top seniors found out Saturday evening what their path to reaching that goal will entail.

Stewart signed a free agent deal with the Tennessee Titans. Orr signed with the Baltimore Ravens, while UNT wide receiver Brelan Chancellor signed with the San Diego Chargers.

Former Lake Dallas and Missouri quarterback James Franklin signed with the Detroit Lions.

Stewart declared for the draft after his junior season at OSU, when he caught 60 passes for 703 yards and was named second-team All-Big 12 as a wide receiver and kick returner. He finished with 2,204 receiving yards in his career and was first-team All-Big 12 as a sophomore.

“When his cleats hit the grass, good things happen,” Guyer coach John Walsh said after the draft. “Watching him walk around the last 30 minutes, you can tell he is extremely motivated and ready to get to camp.”

Stewart hosted a party for his family and friends where he planned to celebrate his selection in the draft.

Dozens of members of the crowd wore black T-shirts with “NFL Draft 2014” printed above a photo of Stewart with “reaching for the stars” underneath, along with Stewart’s signature.

A Bible verse — “I can do all things through God who strengthens me” — was printed on the back.

Excitement built early in the day when several members of the crowd milled around and chatted about their connection to Stewart.

“I’m going to have a cousin in the NFL,” 14-year-old Devin Nelson said. “Everyone in school talks about Johnny Manziel. I’ll say, ‘Forget him. It’s all about Josh.’”

The Gibson family made a three-hour drive to be there for the occasion.

Ryder Gibson, 4, suffers from spina bifida and is confined to a wheelchair. He met Stewart at an event that allowed young fans to interact with Oklahoma State players. Stewart has kept in touch with the family that also includes mother Christi and father Brian and often wears a bracelet that Ryder gave him during games.

“Josh contacted Brian and asked if we could be here,” Christi said. “It’s a big honor. We didn’t tell Ryder where we were going until we were on our way down so he wouldn’t be too excited the last few days.”

Ryder sat in a booth with his parents during the draft party and played with one of Stewart’s OSU rings.

J.W. Walsh also was there to support Stewart. The OSU quarterback has been friends and teammates with Stewart for years.

“I think he has as good a chance as anyone in the draft,” J.W. Walsh said. “He has proven that he can overcome adversity. All the people who have ever doubted him have been proven wrong.”

UNT’s players will face the same challenge now.

Chancellor appeared to have the best chance of UNT’s seniors to be drafted after setting Mean Green career records with 5,503 all-purpose yards in addition to returning three kickoffs and a punt for touchdowns.

Chancellor ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at UNT’s pro day, when he worked out for Denver Broncos special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

“There have been lots of questions and calls about Brelan,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said in the days leading up to the draft. “When you turn that tape on, he was productive and ran well at his senior day.”

Orr finished with 365 career tackles and was a first-team All-Conference USA selection as a senior, as was safety Marcus Trice, another UNT senior who appeared to have a chance to be drafted.

The NFL passed on Orr and Chancellor until the draft was over, when they were quickly snapped up as free agents.

“I didn’t want to have too high of expectations, but I’m at a loss for words that we didn’t have anyone drafted,” Orr said. “We will break that trend soon.”

Until then, Orr and the rest of his UNT teammates are taking the approach that they will have to earn their spots the hard way in the NFL like so many of their predecessors. Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar and Cleveland Browns linebacker Craig Robertson began their NFL careers as undrafted free agents from UNT.

“We are taking the approach that it does not matter where you are drafted, you have to go out and perform,” Orr said.

Stewart will enter his rookie season in the NFL with the same mindset and with the knowledge that he has plenty of people backing him after more than a hundred came to cheer him on at his draft party.

“Nothing is better than to have your family together,” Stewart said. “They were here to support me if I got drafted or not. I appreciated it.”