SideLines: What the NFL draft looks like from the inside

For football fans like me, the NFL draft, which will be held this weekend, is one of the most exciting times of the year. Who is your favorite team going to get? Even more intriguing, who could they have gotten instead?

But what’s it like for the players?

“It’s really an interesting experience because you go through so many emotions,” said Nathan Palmer, a former wide receiver for Northern Illinois University who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts. “I wouldn’t have traded that for anything in the world.”

“It’s stressful and exciting,” Chandler Harnish, a former NIU quarterback who is Parker’s teammate, added.

“I was very nervous,” former Huskie Michael Turner agreed. “You have no idea where you’re going to go. It could be anywhere in the country.”

Being picked by San Diego in the fifth round in 2004, he said, was a complete surprise.

“I’d only talked to them one time,” he said, noting that they already had a pretty good running back in LaDanian Tomlinson, a five-time pro bowl player.

All the players told me during NIU’s recent “X’s and O’s with the Pros” that they tried to go over teams that may choose them. But once the draft begins no one knows how it will go.

As the rounds pass and your name isn’t called, some of the players said they felt a little guilty, like they were letting their family, friends and supporters down. Like Harnish, they said they had done all they could to get ready for whatever happened.

Harnish was the final selection of the 2012 draft, earning the dubious title of “Mr. Irrelevant.” Besides getting a free week’s vacation in Newport Beach, Calif., he was awarded a trophy of a player fumbling the ball.

Going to the team that had chosen Andrew Luck, the top quarterback in the country, with the first overall pick of the draft, didn’t dim the excitement for Harnish.

“You never know what can happen,” he said, adding that he was too caught up in what was going on to give it much thought.

On the other side of the draft is Ryan Diem, an offensive lineman who played for NIU before starting 150 games for the Colts from 2001 to 2011, including their 2007 Super Bowl win against the Bears. He watched the draft like everyone else, but never felt threatened if his team drafted someone who played his position.

“They chose a lot of OLs,” he laughed. If anything, Diem, a fourth-round 2001 pick, felt an obligation to show newcomers how things are done to keep the Colts’ traditions going.

Although he wasn’t actually drafted, Palmer became a priority free agent. He said he got more phone calls after the draft than he did before or during it. “It was better I didn’t get drafted,” he said. “That way I could go wherever I wanted.”

Hopefully, the draft will go the way all fans want. Whatever happens, it’s always interesting.

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