For UCLA football coach Jim Mora, the NFL Draft was once spent in the war room.
The former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks oversaw three NFL drafts combined during his tenure with the two teams, and participated in plenty more as an assistant coach with other teams.
Four years removed from his last NFL Draft with the Seahawks in 2009, Mora said replacing the war room with his living room for the 2013 NFL Draft made for an even more anxious experience.
“It’s just really a neat deal,” Mora said Saturday. “For me, the last three days have been more nerve-wracking than any draft in 25 years that I was ever (involved) in. I’m just so anxious for these kids, so excited for them.”
Mora watched from an entirely different perspective this season as four of his former players were taken in the first six rounds of the draft: defensive end Datone Jones in the first and running back Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round, both to the Green Bay Packers, and punter Jeff Locke in the fifth and offensive guard Jeff Baca in the sixth round, both to the Minnesota Vikings.
“So now we’ve got two at Green Bay and two at Minnesota, so the NFC North, I mean who do we cheer for?” Mora said.
NFC North allegiances aside, the former UCLA players are headed into entirely new environments and are pleased to have at least one college teammate with them to provide some sense of familiarity.
“It’s great, Jeff (Baca) and I got along well at UCLA and we came in together in ’08 out of high school,” Locke said. “It’s great having somebody else going up there with me.”
And for these four players who have spent the past four or more seasons playing in a mostly sunny Los Angeles, transitioning to Midwest locations naturally comes with having to adapt to meteorological changes.
“I’m not really worried about it being cold,” said Jones, who will start his NFL career at Lambeau Field, nicknamed the Frozen Tundra. “I’m pretty excited. … I get to play at a historic stadium.”
The players are excited to have been drafted, but progressing to the next level means competing for playing time immediately. Franklin, for example, need look no further than his own draft class, which includes second-round running back Eddie Lacy, for competition.
“We won’t get better unless we compete,” Franklin said. “Competition brings out the best in people in the game of football, and I’m excited to compete. He’s a great running back and we can help each other and make each other better.”
Locke, on the other hand, shares an alma mater with his competition, former UCLA punter Chris Kluwe. Regardless of Kluwe’s eight seasons as Minnesota’s incumbent punter, Locke contends that he’s focused on his own progression.
“No matter where you go in the NFL, you’re going to have to compete with somebody,” Locke said. “I’m just looking forward to going in and doing my thing and playing to the best of my abilities.”