Charleston Southern has had players on NFL rosters — free agent signees Charles James and Maurice Price come to mind. However, there's somebody who would like to make some history at CSU.
Standout offensive lineman Erik Austell has been a part of several firsts at CSU, the first 10-win season, first team to play in the FCS Playoffs, the first team to win a playoff game … and the first Bucs player ever invited to the NFL Combine. Now the 6-foot-3, 301-pound guard wants to be the first CSU player to ever be drafted. After a strong showing at the combine, the lineman has positioned himself to be a late round pick or a priority free agent — according to several analysts.
Not bad for a former walk on, eh? A month from now, he'll be wearing a different color jersey, it's just a matter of what color.
"I'm confident that I'll be in a minicamp and on a team in August, and from there it's on me and I'm confident in that, too," Austell told HERO Sports. "I think they'll be surprised with my work ethic … A lot of these guys coming out, they haven't had to fight. But I've had to prove myself over and over and over again."
He's not kidding. The Macon, Ga. native has been through his ups and downs and has managed to stay up — as in upward trending, when it comes to draft status. He started out as a preferred walk-on and played defense, then ended up a offensive starter who has gone toe-to-toe with players from programs like Georgia, Vanderbilt and FCS perennial powerhouse North Dakota State — who he swears has the same kind of starting lineup talent as most Power Five conference programs.
Austell sees one of his strengths as versatility. While he's projected to play guard, he has started at tackle in college and could be an emergency backup there or at center. He does see himself more as an interior lineman in the pros, so he has worked on his snapping abilities along with playing either left or right guard. He has met several representatives of teams who have sized him up to see if he'd be a good cohesive part of their O-line — arguably the most important unit in football when it comes to chemistry.
The training time has been put in. He was in the East-West Shrine Game in Tampa back in January, then trained in San Diego, then came to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine — one of only 19 FCS products invited. Then he participated in position drills at Charleston Southern's Pro Day — the last time he'd stand shoulder to shoulder with his comrades in blue, white and gold. NFLDraftScout currently has Austell ranked the No. 27 guard in the draft, and in the past five years 17 guards on average have been drafted — but when the late rounds come calling, it's usually more about the individual team "wants" than what any service thinks.
It's been a whirlwind experience. Talking with teams like the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets has made this quite the experience, and the Denver Broncos have been inquiring — though Austell, in his normal humble way, says its "not like my phone has blown up or anything, I'm not saying that".
The overall effect of this spring has been eye opening.
"The most shocking thing, I always viewed myself as behind everybody — it's what drives me a little bit," Austell said. "I came from a tiny high school and CSU is really the same way. We do a good job with what we have. When I signed with my agent, and we got set for the training in San Diego, I had a rental car waiting and a hotel room set up, along with top notch physical therapy, the best nutrition … I was amazed at all of it."
So the countdown continues and April 27 gets closer and closer every hour. Austell will have a home in May, it's just a matter of where.