PRO FOOTBALL: Houston, we have a prospect

SULLIVAN HEIGHTS — It’s hard to tell if the scene at Christian Covington’s house was a draft party or a block party.

Nearly three digits worth of supporters turned out for the six-foot-three, 290-pound defensive tackle’s NFL draft party, coming from Germany, California, Texas, Eastern Canada and everywhere in between. Over the course of three days last week, the son of CFL Hall of Famer Grover Covington eagerly waited for his name to be called by league commissioner Roger Goodell 3,500 kilometres away in Chicago.

The living room wasn’t big enough to contain those who showed up, so they split the crowd into a second room, with all eyes glued to the flatscreen TVs tuned to the live feed.

Prior to the draft, Christian, 21, talked to the Now about his choice to declare early eligibility when he was just two credits short of graduating from Houston’s Rice University, where he logged 122 tackles and 11.5 sacks over three seasons.

"It was a personal decision," he said. "There was a lot of great meaning to come back as a fifth-year senior, but at the end of the day, I felt in my heart that this was something that I really wanted to be able to capitalize on."

"He had proved almost everything in college," said his dad, Grover. "He went there to Rice and that’s the first time in their history they’ve gone to three straight bowl games. I felt the next step is to pursue being a professional – that’s why he had our blessing.

"He’s going to get that degree," he added, "but if that opportunity knocks, you have to go ahead and pursue it."

Christian said he wanted to declare earlier, but a dislocated kneecap in the second game of the season nearly jeopardized his eligibility in this year’s draft.

"That was the reason I was considering coming back for my fifth year," he said. "There were a lot of doubts coming into the following offseason whether or not I’d be actually able to perform at the combine, perform at pro day, perform at workouts for all these NFL teams."

He underwent surgery and doctors said it would likely take six months to heal, but Christian rehabbed hard and recovered in under three. The injury may have sidelined him for his last season with the Rice University Owls, but it didn’t prevent him from posting an impressive 40-yard run of 4.85 seconds on pro day, laying to rest any doubt that his knee wasn’t up to the task.

Ranked 137th by Sports Illustrated, Christian was relaxed during day one of the draft, knowing he likely wouldn’t be picked in the first round. But by day three, the nerves started setting in and feverish excitement turned to nausea as the draft entered the sixth round.

"It was kind of nerve-wracking, but at the end of the day, I just had to maintain my calm, maintain my focus and realize it’s not in my hands, it’s in God’s hands," said Christian, who played at Vancouver College in high school.

"I told him, ‘Even if you’re the last player taken, Christian, we’re so proud of you,’" said Grover before the draft.

The nailbiting was soon replaced by sighs of relief and tears of joy as he was picked 216th overall by the Houston Texans – one of the several teams with which he did workouts.

"When we found out that he was picked by the Texans, we were so excited because they have such a great D line," said Grover. "It’s going to be a great fit for him, having J.J. Watt on one side and (Jadeveon) Clowney and (Vince) Wilfork, those guys — he’s going to be running so much and grow so fast."

"It’s a great feeling to know I’m going back to where my collegiate career began," added Christian, calling the return to Houston a homecoming. "I’m excited about this journey ahead and I just can’t wait to be playing on such a stout defensive line."

The selection not only makes Christian the first underclassman from B.C. to be drafted in NFL history, but he was the only Canadian to be picked in this year’s draft. Yet, humble and grounded, he isn’t one to brag about it.

"I didn’t go into this whole thing to be able to seek these individual accomplishments," he said. "That’s a small part to what I’m truly trying to accomplish."

It won’t be long before he’s back in the Lone Star State — and for all his efforts, his parents couldn’t be more proud.

"He’s a great kid, and I’m just very thankful for his success," added Grover, who Christian cited as his biggest influence to get into football. "To see his hard work when he was younger and for his dreams to be able to come true, it’s amazing.

"I just tell him to enjoy the moment."

jacobzinn@gmail.com

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