CU football: Ex-Buff savors being part of NFL fraternity

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Former Colorado offensive linemen Ryan Miller, foreground, and Nate Solder are two of 266 Buffs who have been selected in the NFL draft over the years, and a few others are hoping to join the list this weekend.

CU in NFL draft

Total all-time picks: 266 (22nd all-time in the country)

Total first-rounders: 24

Most Buffs picked in one draft: 11 in 1976

First CU draft pick: 1938 – Byron White, HB, 1st round (4th overall), Pittsburgh

Most recent CU draft pick: 2014 – Paul Richardson, WR, 2nd round (45th overall), Seattle

2016 top draft hopefuls ( round projection)

CB Kenneth Crawley (7th round)

OT Stephane Nembot (7th round)

WR Nelson Spruce (7th round)

Regardless of how good or bad the NFL journey goes for those who play in the league, there’s something special about being a part of the fraternity.

In 2012, former Colorado offensive lineman Ryan Miller joined that fraternity, and while his NFL career is now over, he still takes pride in getting the opportunity.

It was an opportunity that came exactly four years ago on April 28, 2012, when Miller was a fifth-round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns.

“Definite excitement,” he said of getting the call that day. “If you get drafted and you’re not excited I don’t know if you’re in the right sport. It’s extreme relief and gratitude.

“I don’t think anybody in my family thought they’d be a Cleveland Browns fan, ever, but I find myself especially now, I’m probably just as much of a Browns fan as anybody that lives in Ohio. The Browns gave me that shot and I’m forever grateful. I’m proud to have played for the Browns.”

Miller is one of 266 Buffs who have been selected in the NFL draft over the years, and a few others are hoping to join the list this weekend. The draft kicks off Thursday and will conclude Saturday.

Several Buffs are hoping to get drafted, but the three with the best shot are receiver Nelson Spruce, offensive tackle Stephane Nembot and cornerback Kenneth Crawley.

A year ago, CU was shut out of the draft for just the fourth time since 1990. CU hasn’t gone two consecutive years without a draft pick since 1949 and 1950.

Over the years, the Buffs have had 24 players taken in the first round, including fullback Bo Matthews, who was the No. 2 overall selection in 1974. They’ve had players from all different positions picked, and teams from all around the league have taken Buffs.

Regardless of where players are selected or by which team, this week is one filled with anticipation and nerves.

Miller went into the 2012 draft feeling confident he would hear his name, but projections were all over the board. Some felt he could go in the second round; others not until the fifth or sixth.

Because of the chance to go in the early rounds, Miller and his family held a draft party on the second day, but watched as the second and third rounds passed by without Miller receiving a call.

“I had been told by a bunch of teams to keep my phone handy and expect a phone call early and it just never happened,” he said. “It’s definitely nerve-racking.

“It was kind of hectic. You’re still in the middle of training, you finished up with pro day and the combine and all of that sort of stuff and you’re about to get hopefully the biggest job interview of your life.”

On the third day, Miller watched the fourth round fly by, too. Finally, late in the fifth round, he got the call.

“Unless you’re in the war rooms and in the green rooms of these teams, people can say this, that, and nobody truly knows (when players will get picked),” Miller said.

The draft has become a major event on the sports calendar, one which football junkies can’t wait to see. It’s “a little out of control,” Miller said. Even for those players involved, it’s a bit over the top. But once that call comes, the emotions take over.

“If you are one of the select few that does get that phone call,” he said, “it’s a pretty awesome feeling.”

Lack of success on the field over the past decade has reduced the number of Buffs who have gone to the NFL, but Miller said there’s still a special feeling being in the fraternity. Former CU teammates and fellow linemen Nate Solder and David Bakhtiari are still in the league, and Miller said he talks to them often.

Miller is eager to watch the draft unfold this week and hopes to see some Buffs come off the board.

He also has no doubt that the future will produce more Buffs who hear their names called in future drafts.

“I’m extremely excited (for CU’s future),” Miller said. “It’s nice to finally have coach (Mike MacIntyre) bring back some tradition.

“At the end of last season we saw guys didn’t quit at the end of games. Would we like to come out on top a little bit more? Yeah, but you saw a lot more finish and I think that’s a huge testament to Mac and the staff up there.”

First rounders

A list of the 24 players from Colorado that have been selected in first round of the NFL draft over the years (listed in order of draft position):

2. Bo Matthews, FB, San Diego (1974)

4. Byron White, HB, Pittsburgh (1938)

4. Michael Westbrook, WR, Washington (1995)

7. J.V. Cain, TE, St. Louis Cardinals (1974)

8. Mark Haynes, CB, N.Y. Giants (1980)

10. Chris Naeole, OG, New Orleans (1997)

11. Bobby Anderson, RB, Denver (1970)

12. Pete Brock, C, New England (1976)

12. Stan Brock, OT, New Orleans (1980)

13. Jerry Hillebrand, E, N.Y. Giants (1962)

13. Troy Archer, DT, N.Y. Giants (1976)

13. Mike Pritchard, WR, Atlanta (1991)

16. Herb Orvis, DE, Detroit (1972)

17. Charles Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh (1994)

17. Nate Solder, OT, New England (2011)

18. Alfred Williams, OLB, Cincinnati (1991)

21. Rashaan Salaam, RB, Chicago (1995)

21. Daniel Graham, TE, New England (2002)

23. Mark Koncar, OT, Green Bay (1976)

23. Deon Figures, CB, Pittsburgh (1993)

24. Leonard Renfro, DT, Philadelphia (1993)

27. Rae Carruth, WR, Carolina (1997)

27. Jimmy Smith, CB, Baltimore (2011)

32. Tyler Brayton, DT, Oakland (2003)

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.