Like hundreds of other college football standouts hoping to throw their helmets into the professional ring, tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 spent the weekend glued to ESPN’s coverage of the 2004 NFL Draft, anxiously waiting for his phone to ring. After five-and-a-half rounds of selection, spanning all of Saturday afternoon and evening and extending well into Sunday, Yale’s record-breaking tight end got the much-anticipated call.
“I saw Tampa Bay was up on the ticker,” Lawrie said. “I had taken a visit down to Tampa and knew they had some interest [in me], so I kind of got excited. [Then] I got a phone call, and it was an unidentified phone call on my cell phone — Jon Gruden came on the phone and asked me if I wanted to play for the Bucs.”
Gruden, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, informed Lawrie that he was about to become their sixth round selection, the 181st pick over all. Though Lawrie had visited Tampa Bay earlier this month — each NFL team is allowed to bring in 20 players for visits before the draft — he was not sure their interest would result in his selection, or merely merit an invitation to their training camp as an undrafted free agent.
“It was definitely nice to get the phone call,” Lawrie said. “I had no idea — if they were going to draft me, or [if I should] plan on free agency.”
Lawrie, who will head to Tampa Bay Thursday for the team’s first mini-camp, is eager to learn from the Bucs’ veteran tight ends.
“They [have] a lot of veterans down there. Ken Dilger and [Rickey] Dudley, both seasoned veterans — those are probably their top two guys–I grew up watching Ken Dilger in Indianapolis — and now I get to go learn from him. So I’m pretty excited about it.”
Also joining Lawrie in Tampa Bay’s camp is a player he knows well from his time at Yale, former Dartmouth tight end Casey Cramer, whom the Bucs selected in the seventh round. Though Tampa Bay plans to use Cramer mostly at H-back, according to Buccaneers.com, the 2001 and 2002 All-Ivy tight end should get some snaps on the line of scrimmage. Despite the prospect of competing for a roster spot with his former conference rival, Lawrie was upbeat about the chance to play with another Ancient Eight alum.
“I think it is a cool development,” Lawrie said. “Casey’s a good player — and now he’s going to be a teammate of mine. I think it is nice to have a teammate with a similar background — Everything I’ve been told throughout the process, from what I’ve read online to what people have said, he’s an H-back type player — So when I heard that he was drafted I wasn’t worried at all. I don’t feel threatened by [him], and I think it should be a cool thing.”
In selecting two Ivy League players in the same draft, the Buccaneers became the first NFL team to do so in 23 years, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Lawrie is the second former Bulldog drafted by Tampa Bay in the past four seasons. Safety Than Merrill ’01 was selected by the Bucs in the seventh round in 2001.
Lawrie, who watched the draft in New Haven with friends and family, repeatedly emphasized his excitement at being selected. But he does not plan to rest on his laurels.
“It’s obviously a great honor to be drafted at all,” Lawrie said. “There are so many great players around the country and to be drafted is a great honor and something that I’m very excited about — [But] just because I got drafted in the sixth round doesn’t guarantee me a spot or anything. I still have a lot of work to do. And I still have a long way to go.”