7th Heaven for Huskies as UConn’s Stephen, Smallwood selected in NFL Draft

UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood, top right, tackles Maryland quarterback Perry Hills during a 2012 football game in College Park, Md. Smallwood was taken in the seventh round of the NFL Draft on Saturday by the Atlanta Falcons and UConn teammate Shamar Stephen was taken in the same round by the Minnesota Vikings.

A long afternoon of waiting to hear about their NFL Draft fate ended with some good news for two UConn football players.

Shamar Stephen and Yawin Smallwood both were selected in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.

Minnesota picked Stephen 220th overall while Atlanta took Smallwood with the 253rd pick. They are the 20th and 21st players out of UConn to be drafted since 2007.

"It was definitely a long wait," Stephen said in a conference call. "I was anxious, just trying to hope I got picked up. I was happy about it and want to thank the Minnesota Vikings for picking me up.

"I just want to come in and prove I can play and be a factor for them next year."

Stephen, a defensive tackle and 2013 team captain, was an All-American Athletic Conference second team selection. He finished third on the team in tackles with 60 and had a team-best 10 tackles for a loss while starting all 12 games last season.

He met with the Vikings in April during the pre-draft process.

"It was a great meeting," Stephen said. "They definitely showed me a lot of love. ... They showed me what they were all about and I was definitely impressed with them."

Smallwood, a linebacker, anchored the UConn defense last season, registering a team-best 118 tackles and earning All-AAC first team honors. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award.

He figured that Atlanta was interested in him because the Falcons' linebackers coach came to UConn to put Smallwood through a workout.

"It was a great moment," Smallwood said of when he received a phone call from Atlanta. "I've worked hard all my life. It's just overwhelming and I'm happy to be an Atlanta Falcon now."

Smallwood admitted that he was disappointed with his draft position.

"I think I'm the best linebacker in this class," Smallwood said. "I had 100-plus tackles every year and didn't have any issues off the field. ... I did everything the right way. But everything happens for a reason and I'm blessed that Atlanta gave me this opportunity."

"It's great," Smallwood said. "He's another UConn guy so we have that little connection. I'm going to try and learn as much about the defense as I can from a guy like that and I'm ready to go work now."


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