Canzano: Two Pac-12 stars -- Drake London and Marcus Mariota -- now aligned in NFL
Draft weeks comes with hopes and tears.
Drake London was an all-state selection in football and basketball in California at Moorpark High School. He suited up a couple of times for USC’s basketball team. But it was football where the Trojans’ wide receiver became a star.
London is big.
He is fast.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted him No. 8 overall and will pair him with former Oregon Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota next season. But before all that — I want to take a moment to note how impressed I was with London this week. While I’ve long admired his game, I got to see London as a person for the first time.
London’s family took care of that for me. His parents, Cindi and Dwan, crafted an open video letter to their son before the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft. His sister, Makayla, also participated.
“Fearless,” the pre-draft scouting reports read.
“Solid blocker,” they noted.
“Huge catch radius,” they pointed out.
It’s the kind of stuff we all focus on leading into a draft. I understand why the Falcons selected London. He’s going to be a terrific pro. But it wasn’t until I saw that video that I decided the whole world ought to root for the guy.
London’s father, Dwan, has worked with his son and encouraged him since he was little. He bought him a mini-basketball hoop at age 2. Then in elementary school dad set up trash cans in the street and had his son run make-shift pass routes between them. Dwan London tells people he didn’t want to be overbearing, so he let Drake lead and decided that whatever sport his son wanted to play, he’d support it.
Said Dwan to his son in the video letter: “I’ve watched you since you were a little boy… being able to come along with you on this ride and this journey has been amazing to us. A lot of people never get to meet their favorite athlete, but I’ve had the pleasure to raise mine.”
His mother, Cindi, remembers painful growth spurts. Between eighth grade and his freshman football season, Drake grew five inches. The next two years her son added an additional three inches. By the time he got to USC as a freshman, Drake London was pushing toward 6-foot-5 and being written about as an NFL prospect.
Total number of high school football players last season: 1,093,234.
Number of those who will play football in college: 71,060.
Those estimated to play in the NFL: 853.
Drake London and the rest of the first-round draft picks aren’t just exceptional athletes, they’re the equivalent of a series of lightning strikes. Only one in 1,300 high school football players will play professionally. Maybe it’s why the remarks from London’s family hit my heart like a bag of bricks.
His mother, Cindi, talked about watching her son put on a plastic helmet and fake shoulder pads. She remembers him pretending to tackle cushions in the living room.
“… and putting a hole in the wall,” mom added.
London’s older sister is a fashion designer and social media influencer. In the video she didn’t talk about her brother’s 15 touchdown receptions or the 2,153 yards. Instead, his sister said, “We need more young men like you in this world.”
USC fans will tell you London is soft spoken and all business. Opposing Pac-12 coaches will say they’re thrilled he’s out of the conference. But it turns out that Makayla grew up with the kind of brother every sister would appreciate.
“You want everyone to shine and do their best,” she said.
Mariota entered the NFL seven seasons ago. The Titans drafted him No. 2 overall, then proceeded to cycle through head coaches and offensive coordinators at a blistering pace. I still think the guy can play at a high level. Others don’t.
It’s why the opportunity for Mariota to be a starter in Atlanta is so interesting. And it’s why the selection of London at No. 8 is so critical — two former Pac-12 stars from rival programs, now aligned.
Receiver Calvin Ridley is suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games. Russell Gage and Julio Jones are gone. The Falcons have a terrific tight end in Kyle Pitts, but needed to get Mariota an additional target and they did just that with London.
Tears streamed down the cheeks of London while he watched the video from his family on draft day. His sister’s comments hit the hardest. Or maybe it just felt that way because she went last. I watched Drake London catch passes and score touchdowns in college but, admittedly, never really saw him — Drake London, the person — until this week.
“I want to make y’all happy. I want to make y’all proud,” London said to his parents. “The name on my back. The people in my household every day. I didn’t think it was going to be this hard — but I can say, ‘we did it’.”
Some additional goods:
• Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes confirmed that OSU plans to take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows athletic departments to reward athletes with up to $5,980 per school year based on academic performance. Only 22 of the 130 FBS-level schools are currently doing this. In the Pac-12, Colorado, Oregon and Washington paid those academic bonuses to athletes this year.
• In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pac-12 set an eight-year low with only 28 picks. Some of that had to do with the pandemic and the NCAA granting extra eligibility. My friend Jon Wilner is tracking the conference carefully in the 2022 draft. He pointed out on Twitter that the Pac-12 had 10 players picked through the first three rounds this year and will need a very busy Saturday to avoid a new low.
• Colorado’s football program is making a concerted effort to recruit the best high school players in its state. The new campaign comes with a slogan: “The best in state, stay in state.” The Buffaloes marketing folks are also noting that former Colorado players have earned a total of 55 Super Bowl rings.
• USC has added San Jose State to the 2023 football schedule. The Spartans will visit the Los Angeles Coliseum on Aug. 26, 2023, in a “Week Zero” matchup. This game replaces the USC game canceled by BYU, which is joining the Big 12 in 2023.
• Oregon first-year football coach Dan Lanning can sell program draft success to recruits. The Ducks are one of just three schools in the nation with a top-10 pick in each of the last three NFL Drafts.
• Washington State back-up quarterback Victor Gabalis has entered the transfer portal. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman was behind transfer Cameron Ward on the depth chart. He is very consistent and will help someone. Keep an eye on where he lands.
Thanks for being here. I appreciate all who have supported, subscribed and shared this new independent endeavor with friends and family. If you haven’t already — please consider subscribing.