When Marquis Flowers and Shaq Richardson were sophomores at the UA, the two close friends made a bet about who would be the first player drafted.
More than two years later, they finally have an answer.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Richardson, a 6-foot, 194-pound cornerback in the fifth round of the NFL draft Saturday. He was the 157th pick overall. One round later, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Flowers, a 6-3, 231-pound linebacker, with the 212th overall pick.
“I’m not a sore loser,” Flowers said. “I’ll pay up. I’m happy to. I couldn’t be happier for Shaq.”
Richardson gathered with friends and family at his Carson, Calif., home to watch the draft. On Friday, he saw his cousin Paul, a receiver from Colorado, taken by the Seattle Seahawks.
Saturday, it was his turn.
“My fiancée was in the other room with my phone and it started to ring and she ran in and gave it to me,” Richardson said. “It was the Steelers letting me know I was their guy. Everyone at my house starting yelling and everything. It was pretty cool.”
Richardson visited Pittsburgh before the draft and knew the proud franchise had interest in him. He was the only cornerback the Steelers took in nine picks.
He started 37 games over four seasons for the Wildcats. Richardson had 55 tackles and three interceptions for the UA as a senior.
“I’m real excited because I know it’s a dream come true for him,” UA cornerbacks coach David Lockwood said. “He definitely passes the eye test. He has all the tools you need to be a good cornerback at that level.”
Richardson will be greeted by a familiar face in former UA teammate Robert Golden, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent after the 2012 draft and has played in 31 games for Pittsburgh over the past two seasons. Golden played in all 16 contests last year and had 14 tackles.
“He texted me right away,” Richardson said. “He said he’s ready for me to get there and start working. I obviously know him real well.”
Even though Richardson went earlier than many analysts expected, he said he was getting nervous.
“I was getting impatient and stressing,” he said.
Richardson will take the red-eye from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh tonight and report for rookie mini-camp. Once he’s with the Steelers he’ll face Flowers and the Bengals twice a season as AFC North rivals.
Flowers took in the draft at his dad’s house in Phoenix with about 30 people. Midway through the sixth round, Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith called him and said the Bucs would be interested in signing him as an undrafted free agent. The Titans and Cardinals called and said the same.
But less than 5 minutes after Smith’s call, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called and said “congratulations.”
“I had to look up at the TV and saw the Bengals were on the clock and I put it together,” Flowers said. “I was really doing OK before I started getting those calls from the teams who were basically saying I wasn’t going to be drafted. I was trying not to get mad. Then, Coach Lewis called and it all changed.”
Flowers played in 50 games for the Wildcats over the past four seasons, with 93 tackles last season. The Goodyear Millennium High School grad came to the UA as a safety and played there for his first two seasons. He was moved to linebacker before the 2012 season when coach Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel arrived.
Flowers, who said he’ll play linebacker for the Bengals, will report to Cincinnati on Thursday.
“I’m feeling great and I’m just excited about what’s ahead,” he said.
Flowers, Richardson and Ka’Deem Carey gave the Wildcats three players taken in the draft for the first time since 2012.
Receiver/tight end Terrence Miller signed a rookie free agent with the New York Jets on Saturday night. He played in all 13 games as a senior for the UA. He had 40 catches for 467 yards and one touchdown. The Moreno Valley, California, native, will report next weekend.