West Virginia's Geno Smith did not get drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, but the team that selected him with the 39th pick in the second round Friday night assures he'll play under the pressure of a No. 1 pick.
The New York Jets chose Smith to be the heir apparent to Mark Sanchez, the former first-round pick of the Jets who led the franchise to consecutive appearances in the AFC championship game in 2009 and 2010.
Speculation started immediately that Sanchez would not be on the roster for much longer. After those back-to-back title game appearances, Sanchez struggled the past two seasons as the Jets fell from contender to out of the playoffs.
The Jets also have former first-round quarterback Tim Tebow on their roster, which added to the circus-like atmosphere around the team last season.
"To be a Jet is dream come true," Smith said. "I've been watching football my entire life and they're one of the most storied organizations in the NFL. I'm just elated and ready to get to work."
Smith was one of three players from the three major Division I schools in the area to be drafted Friday in second and third rounds the draft.
Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round, and West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey was chosen by the St. Louis Rams in the third round. Bailey rejoins former teammate and fellow receiver Tavon Austin with the Rams, who was drafted with the No. 8 overall pick Thursday.
Hill, a 6-foot-1, 303-pounder, was the first Penn State player chosen in this year's draft.
Smith, who threw 42 touchdowns and just six interceptions for the Mountaineers last season, was expected to be a first-round selection, but all 32 teams passed on him Thursday night and he had to wait until Friday to hear his name called.
Smith left Radio Music City Hall Thursday night without speaking to reporters, and he did not smile when he walked onto the stage Friday night after he was introduced as the Jets pick.
"I'm just that type of guy," Smith said of his demeanor. "I took that to heart, what happened [Thursday]. I'm not going to sit here and say I'll use it as fuel or extra motivation because I'm already motivated. Just being in this position is a blessing. I'm going to smile as much as I can, but remember what happened."
At No. 39, Smith became the highest quarterback selected out of West Virginia. Oliver Luck and Pat White were chosen No. 44 overall in the 1982 and 2009 drafts.
Smith was the second quarterback taken in the draft. EJ Manuel of Florida State was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the No. 16 pick in the first round.
Smith's situation was similar to what Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers went through in 2005. He was expected to be a top-10 pick, but fell to No. 24. After a couple of years as the backup to Brett Favre, Rodgers became the Packers starter and won the Super Bowl in the 2010 season. Thursday, Rodgers signed a $110 million dollar contract extension. He tweeted to Smith, "Good things come to those who wait."
"I watched that draft and Aaron go through that," Smith said. "It's kind of ironic I was in that position."
Now Smith has the challenge of leading the Jets, who haven't won a Super Bowl since 1969, back into the contention for a championship. "It's a once in a lifetime moment," Smith said. "I can't even explain it. I've done so many things in my life, but I don't think any of them amount to what I experienced out there. I'm proud to be a Jet."
Several other players at West Virginia, Pitt and Penn State as well as former WPIAL and City League players will be hoping to hear their name called today on the final day of the draft.
The three former WPIAL and City League players with the best chance of getting drafted are safety Rontez Miles, a Woodland Hills graduate who finished his career at California, Pa; defensive lineman Kaleb Ramsey, a Laurel Highlands graduate who played at Boston College; and offensive lineman John Wetzel, who went to Brashear and also played at Boston College.