ROSELLE, N.J. - As he walked around the table, embracing family and friends, Muhammad Wilkerson showed it all in his eyes: The jubilation. The relief. The fulfillment.
For the 6-foot-4, 315-pound defensive tackle out of Temple, this moment was years in the making. It all paid off Thursday night at a banquet hall here amid about 100 guests.
Wilkerson will play for the New York Jets after being chosen with the 30th overall pick in the NFL draft.
"It was a great moment. A great moment," said the junior, who became the first Owl to forgo his final season of eligibility to enter the draft. "I'm just happy to be a Jet, the hometown team. You know what I mean?"
Wilkerson, a native of Linden, N.J., said he was a New York Giants fan as a youngster. After he was drafted, the crowd chanted, "J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!"
"All I could do is smile, man, because I'm just excited," Wilkerson said. "It's going to be fun playing in front of my family. They are going to attend just about every game. It's going to be an awesome feeling."
The only other Owls to be drafted in the first round were Paul Palmer, who was taken as the 19th overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1987, and John Rienstra, who went ninth overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1986.
"I'll represent Temple strong," Wilkerson said. "I'm always going to represent the Temple team and show that Temple can continue to produce elite athletes for the next level."
Wilkerson waited 31/2 hours before he became a first-round pick. This was the moment he envisioned for some time.
"The NFL was always a dream," he said. "Off the field, I didn't always have that on my mind. But when I was out there on that field, I would just push myself and tried to be successful and work hard."
Wilkerson has always been a big presence on the field. He played Pop Warner football as an 8-year-old but had to sit out the following year because he had exceeded the weight limit for his age group. He did not play football again until he reached middle school.
By the time he was a senior at Linden High School, Wilkerson was on the radar of high-profile football programs.
"But once schools realized I wasn't going to qualify [academically for freshman eligibility in college], they backed off," he said.
Temple was one of the few schools that stuck with him. He signed with the Owls in February 2007, but because he did not meet academic requirements, he spent a prep year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia.
After three seasons on North Broad Street - the last two as an all-Mid-American Conference selection - he jumped to the NFL. His 91/2 sacks last season were second in the MAC.
The Jets are hoping that he'll have similar productivity on the next level.
Now comes the pressure to produce, but Wilkerson said he has plenty of motivation.
"Some people say that Temple or the MAC itself, the competition isn't good or the talent level isn't good or whatever," he said. "I don't care what people say about me or Temple.
"I just want to be out there and be successful. Go out there and represent my family. And at the end of the day, still represent Temple."
Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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