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Former University of Toledo standouts Barry Church and Stephen Williams had to wait seven excruciatingly long rounds and nearly 48 hours to never hear their names called in the NFL draft.
But moments after the three-day event had ended yesterday, both had solidified their plans for next season.
Church agreed to a contract as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, while Williams will join the Arizona Cardinals.
Church was a four-time All-Mid-American Conference first-team honoree at safety for the Rockets, while Williams is the school's all-time leading pass catcher. Each was projected as a mid-to-late-round draft pick, but it never came to fruition.
"It was heartbreaking," Church said. "To be honest, I was devastated. A lot of the coaches that had called me during the draft said they had given me a high grade, a third round grade, but they just needed help other places, like on the offensive line and defensive line. And you see those were the most picked positions in the whole draft.
"But God has a plan for everybody. Dallas picked me up, and now I have to make the best of it."
Williams said that he and Church were in contact throughout the draft offering moral support.
"We were texting and calling each other a lot," Williams said. "Barry's one of my closest friends. It was kind of upsetting for both of us, but at the end of the day, I think we both have an excellent chance to get on our [respective] squads, and not even on the practice squads but get on the roster - just because these are two spots that need to be filled and the type of players we are."
Dallas secondary coach Brett Maxie first reached out to Church early in the seventh round yesterday and told him that the Cowboys may draft him with its last pick.
The organization instead selected William & Mary defensive tackle Sean Lissemore with the 234th overall pick, but Maxie got back in touch with Church immediately after the conclusion of the draft.
"After looking at their roster and seeing their secondary and the history of their team, I felt like they gave me the best chance to get on the field early as a rookie," Church said. "Their specials teams coach [Joe DeCamillis] really liked me too, and that's another way to make the team. I just took all that into consideration and just went with it."
Church will be paid a signing bonus of $16,000, but is not guaranteed a roster spot or any money beyond that. He will instead have to make the team when training camp opens in July, and the final terms of his contract will be negotiated then, Church said.
Dallas' four-day rookie minicamp begins Thursday, and Church said he plans to be there.
"I have a really great opportunity to make the team and play early, either on special teams or on defense," Church said. "That's what they told me when I talked to them, and I can't wait to show them what I've got in a Dallas uniform."
The Cardinals reached out to Williams when the sixth round ended, and he fielded phone calls from many of the top officials in that organization.
"I talked to the GM, the head coach, the wide receivers coach, the offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator, and they were all trying to bring me in," Williams said. "They have three wide receivers spots open right now, so there's an opportunity to make the team and play early. It was just a perfect situation, and I couldn't have asked for anything better."
But that's not to say Williams doesn't feel like he has something to prove to the other 31 teams that bypassed him.
"I always had my best seasons when I had a chip on my shoulder, and right now I feel like I have the world's biggest chip," he said. "I'm ready to prove a lot of people wrong."
HAUDAN SIGNS: Former Minnesota punter and St. John's Jesuit graduate Blake Haudan also signed as an undrafted free agent yesterday with the Carolina Panthers. An All-Ohio first-team honoree with the Titans, Haudan ranked third in the Big Ten last season with an average of 42.6 yards per punt.
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