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SUNDAY, APRIL 29, 2007
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Baltimore makes Auburn’s Grubbs a 1st-round pick

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

Ben Grubbs grew up dreaming of hitting home runs as a child in Eclectic.

Now as an adult, his reality is pancake blocks in the NFL.

Grubbs became the first Auburn player selected in Saturday’s NFL draft when the Baltimore Ravens took the offensive guard in the first round with the 29th overall pick.

He became the highest selected Auburn offensive lineman since Victor Riley went 28th in the 1998 first round.

“Growing up as a kid, I was a baseball player,” Grubbs said less than two hours after getting picked. “I really didn’t start playing football until ninth grade.”

Late bloomer though he may be, he still will make millions paving the way for recently acquired free agent running back Willis McGahee, who ran for 3,365 yards in three seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

A day earlier, Grubbs wasn’t thinking crab cakes and the East Coast. Instead, it was cold winters with the defending NFC champion Chicago Bears.

“There was a lot of talk about the Chicago Bears during the draft process,” Grubbs said.

“(ESPN draft analyst) Mel Kiper had me going there. One of the scouts said they were really interested in me.”

As for the Ravens, Grubbs said, “I hadn’t spoken with them. I didn’t take my visit with them. I really didn’t think they were interested in me.”

Four others with state connections received calls Saturday when the NFL conducted the first three rounds of its draft. LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who graduated from Mobile’s Williamson High, was chosen first in the draft by the Oakland Raiders. Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, a former Lee-Huntsville standout, was picked by the Houston Texans with the 10th pick in the first round.

Russellville native and Tennessee offensive lineman Arron Sears went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the third pick of the second round and 35th overall selection, and Auburn running back Kenny Irons will play in Cincinnati with the Bengals after being taken in the second round with the 49th overall selection.

“I always say the draft is a big shuffle,” Irons said. “You never know where you’re going to get drafted. People were saying (New York) Giants, Buffalo, Green Bay. Then here comes that 49th pick, and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ ”

Irons, who said he missed the original phone call from Cincinnati telling him it was going to pick him, now settles into a situation where he’ll learn from a fellow former Auburn player.

The Bengals showcase Rudi Johnson as their running back.

“That’s awesome,” Irons said. “I can be with Rudi and be behind him and learn from him. I did not expect to be in Cincinnati. It was like a surprise attack.”

As for Grubbs, almost 40 friends and family members spent Saturday afternoon awaiting the call from his future employer. When the cell phone rang with 10 minutes remaining on the 15-minute limit the Ravens had to make their pick, Grubbs was surprised.

“It was crazy in my house,” Grubbs said. “All my family members here. I was hollering. They were hollering.”

Grubbs (6-foot-4, 314 pounds) was an ESPN.com and Rivals.com first team all-American in 2006. As a senior, he was AP All-SEC first team and a second team All-American.

He played in 50 games at Auburn, including starting the final 38 of his career. He earned SEC offensive lineman of the week honors twice in 2006.

All of this happened after he changed positions multiple times, going from a defensive end to a tight end to an offensive lineman. And now he’s an NFL lineman.

“I couldn’t paint a better picture for myself,” Grubbs said. “I’m happy with the position I’m in right now. When I was defensive end, I never thought I’d be in the position I’ve been in now. It’s been a long road, but I opened a new chapter in my life.”

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