This wasn’t exactly the path Kaleb Eulls thought he’d have to take to make it in the NFL.
It sure didn’t seem that way back on May 2.
His cell phone was blowing up that Saturday as he sat in his Starkville, Mississippi, apartment with family members and friends.
It was the last day of the NFL draft and coaches constantly called the Mississippi State defensive lineman to let him know he was still on their draft boards.
Any minute now, his name was supposed to pop up on the television screen.
Calls kept coming.
THE call didn’t.
Eulls went undrafted.
“Are you all right?” Ora Eulls asked her son shortly after the last of the 256 players had been selected.
Eulls assured her he was fine.
“He’s happy with the decision he has made,” Ms. Eulls recalled. “He’s close to home.”
The 6-foot-4 , 295-pound Eulls signed as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints, just a little more than three hours from his home in rural Yazoo County, Mississippi.
The Saints rookie minicamp starts Friday, giving Eulls a chance to make his case.
For drafted players, there isn’t too much stress during minicamps.
But for undrafted players like Eulls, it’s critical.
A bad showing here and you may not be invited back.
“I hate he didn’t get drafted, but I’m excited he’s getting an opportunity,” said Matt Williams, Eulls’ high school coach, who watched the draft with Eulls. “He probably felt disappointed inside, but he never showed it. ”
It’s still unclear just why Eulls, a four-year starter at MSU who went on to play in the Senior Bowl with the nation’s top seniors, didn’t get drafted.
He was rated the 21s- best defensive lineman in the nation by ESPN and figured to go somewhere in the late rounds.
Unlike most guys who slide in the draft, there are no red flags surrounding Eulls, who turns 24 in June.
He’s about as squeaky clean as they come. (Think a younger version of Saints’ linebacker Parys Haralson, whose hometown is just a few miles from where Eulls grew up.)
Eulls got his degree in interdisciplinary studies in December. He married his high school sweetheart last May.
No arrests. No failed drug tests. No DUIs. No questions about his work ethic.
In fact, it’s his work ethic that got him to this point.
He saw it every day in Ora Eulls, a single mother who raised Kaleb and his four sisters in their rural home.
“It was just all about keeping a roof over their head and food on the table and trying to tell them to get the best education,” Ora Eulls said. “I’d sit Kaleb down and talk to him about his friends getting locked up or killed. I constantly reminded him where kids his age are. Some are in jail. Some are dead.
“I don’t have to worry about any smoking or drinking or any of that with Kaleb. I guess my talking did some good.”
She taught her kids to always look out for each other.
Eulls was 18 when the highly publicized incident occurred that gave him far more notoriety than anything he has done on the football field.
He was on his way to school, sitting in the back of the school bus, asleep. A 14-year old girl on the bus began waving a .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun, threatening to shoot the 22 other students on the bus.
Eulls was awakened by one of his sisters.
Moments later, Eulls tackled the gun-waving student and took the gun from her.
It landed him on television screens all across the country, from CNN to “Good Morning America.”
“That’s what he is known for, for being the hero of the bus,” Williams said. “But knowing him for long as I have, that’s just the type of kid he is. His heart and his passion for others is unbelievable.”
While that sack is the one he is most known for, he went on to record four more to go with 118 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss at Mississippi State. He started all 52 games of his college career, mostly at defensive tackle.
He can also play defensive end.
And if the Saints really get in a bind, he can fill in for Drew Brees.
Eulls, despite being 6-4 and 255 pounds at the time, played quarterback as a junior and senior.
The left-hander threw for 721 yards his senior season.
But it’s on the defensive line where he hopes to make his mark in minicamp in what could be a crowded field.
Rodney Edwards, Eulls’ agent, said about 16 teams were interested, but the Saints seemed to be the best fit.
Akiem Hicks, Cam Jordan, Glenn Foster and fifth-round draft pick Tyeler Davison all can play defensive end in the Saints’ 3-4 defense.
Brodrick Bunkley, John Jenkins and Lawrence Virgil all can play tackle, meaning there won’t be room for everyone.
But there are some who think Eulls could be a steal.
Don Banks of SI.com had Eulls on his Wes Welker Watch List, a list of the top 10 undrafted free agents.
Time will tell.
Those who have been around Eulls a while like his chances.
The guy who converted Eulls to a quarterback in high school likes his chances of harassing NFL quarterbacks in the future.
“I think he’ll put that chip on his shoulder and say “somebody should’ve drafted me” and prove a point,” Williams said.