For Larry Warford, what he thought was the right decision turned out to be exactly the right thing for him.
The University of Kentucky offensive lineman was picked in the third round Friday by the Detroit Lions with the 65th overall pick — the third pick in the third round — and is going to a team that listed bolstering its offensive line as a pre-draft goal.
To understand how impressive Warford’s pick, consider two things:
n Randall Cobb, one of the best players ever at UK, was taken with the 64th overall pick by Green Bay two years ago and has blossomed into a NFL star.
n Kentucky had not had an offensive lineman drafted since Todd Perry (fourth round) and Chuck Bradley (sixth round) in 1993.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said the 6-3, 330-pound Warford was a “match” for what the team needed and that he could find himself put into the guard spot opposite Rob Sims and next to center Dominic Raiola on a line that would have a pair of first-year starter.
“He’s made to play guard in the NFL,” Schwartz told The Associated Press.
Warford had contemplated putting his name into the NFL draft a year ago, but decided against it. He also noted last week when talking with UK media members that he could never see a player going into the NFL draft after one year in college like basketball players routinely do with the NBA.
“People would get hurt. It really would not be fair in football. If you go play college for one year, you are 18-19 years old? You haven’t matured enough yet emotionally or (in) strength. You don’t understand the game well enough. I don’t care who you are, you are going to get hurt,” Warford said. “I think it is good you have to stay for three years. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. That is a man’s game in the NFL. I couldn’t really see that being a part of the NCAA.”
“There would be a select few that could handle it financially and being able to handle their money. A majority wouldn’t. You go to a high school kid to one year in college to getting all this wealth and I don’t believe that you would have to the time to prepare yourself with that. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with that kind of money. People would be wrecking their lives buying everything and wasting their money and not being prepared for what comes after football. For a lot of people, football is everything and they don’t have anything else. I can’t see that.”
Now Warford is ready for the “man’s game” in the NFL. He dealt with adversity early as he attended 13 schools because his father was in the Navy and his parents divorced. His mother lives in Samoa and he’s not seen her since 2007 — and she never saw him play once he came to Kentucky to play at Madison Central High School and then UK.
Warford did not allow a quarterback sack last season and had 48 knockdown blocks and became the first UK offensive lineman to earn All-America status since Mike Pfeifer in 1989 and the first to receive the honor from the Associated Press since Warren Bryant earned second-team honors in 1976. He started his last 37 games at Kentucky.
He admitted last week he has changed dramatically at UK.
“I’m a lot more confident in myself. I’m very critical of myself still but when I first got to UK I thought I wasn’t great at all. I went from high school to college and I wasn’t dominating like I was but I failed to realize that there is a lot better talent in college,” he said. “Having gone through my years at UK these last four years and steadily becoming a better player, I have gained a lot more confidence in myself and my play and it has helped me progress a lot.”
Garrard County coach Mark Scenters was Warford’s offensive line coach at Madison Central. He was looking for Detroit hats and T-shirts Friday night after Warford was drafted and plans to see him play this season. However, he’s not surprised at Warford’s success.
“As soon as he came in, we got on film and saw a state championship game he played at San Diego Charger Stadium in California as a sophomore and you could tell right away from the film he was special,” Scenters said. “Once we got to work him out, you just do not see grown men his size move that well. That is something that I was taken aback by immediately.
“I listened to the Detroit coach get a lot of questions about his mobility after they picked him. But he has amazingly good feet and such a low center of gravity for a big kid that his balance is always good. He always knew how to play with his hands and we loved getting him out on sweeps or screen passes and let guys run behind him because anybody in front of him didn’t last long. So, no, it was easy to tell this day could easily come for him.”