Sports

NFL dream comes true for Auburn's Paulson

David Paulson will take his skills to the next level – as a rookie tight end with the NFL
David Paulson will take his skills to the next level – as a rookie tight end with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.
— image credit: Courtesy photo/Eric Evans, U of O

The long and agonizing NFL Draft ultimately proved sweet and rewarding for the Paulsons.

Auburn's football-loving family watched in great anticipation as coverage of the three-day draft wound down Saturday.

As the draft entered the seventh and final round, however, David Paulson's number had not been called. Paulson – a 6-foot-4, 241-pound tight end prospect from the University of Oregon and Auburn Riverside High School – was waiting quietly, anxiously, surrounded by family and friends at his house in Eugene, Ore.

The draft party celebration was on hold.

"It was tough. It was a long day," said Paulson's father, Scott. "(David and I) actually got out of his house for a little while and hit a bucket of (golf) balls and putted around on a green a little bit just to get away from it."

When they returned, Kristi Paulson's phone lit up. Her number just happened to be the secondary contact for NFL clubs interested in pursuing her son's exceptional skills as an all-purpose tight end.

"I looked down on ... and it showed a 412 area code," she said, guessing its origin.

It wasn't long after David answered the call that his name flashed across the television screen. He had become a Pittsburgh Steeler, the 240th player taken in the complex, 253-selection process.

"It's been a goal of mine forever," David said of playing on Sundays. "Growing up I've been a real big fan of football and always wanted a chance to play in the NFL."

His first opportunity begins this weekend when he reports for the Steelers' mini camp for rookies. Months of hard, offseason workouts prepared him well for this moment. Paulson has swift feet, soft hands and the necessary smarts to command a thick playbook.

Paulson visited the Steelers two weeks ago. He met with coaches and front office personnel but until last Saturday, wasn't entirely sure if he would be drafted to wear the black and gold.

In the back of his mind, he was preparing for free agency.

But the long-awaited call came. His big challenge had just begun.

The Steelers are rich in tight ends, but open to ideas. Paulson will compete for a roster spot behind veterans Heath Miller, Weslye Saunders and Leonard Pope.

The Steelers expect to take advantage of Paulson's versatility, perhaps use him in an H-back role.

"He's a tight end that has played in a multiple offense," said Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel. "He has done some in-line stuff, some backfield stuff and some slot stuff. He's a guy that has some talent and some position flexibility for us.

"He can catch, block in-line and block in the backfield. He can block in the slot," Daniel said. "He's been playing in the Oregon offense, which is as wide open as any offense in college football right now. There have been some tight ends that have come out of that offense that are playing in the league right now."

Paulson is willing to take on the challenge.

"I have experience in a lot of different things," he said. "I've lined up in the backfield, in the slot, played some H-back, some true tight end, so I'm experienced in a lot of different things. I'm excited to take that to the next level."

The Oregon years have been rewarding for Paulson the student, player and regular guy. He credits the support of his parents and two older brothers for his success.

Off the field, he is a standout student, on schedule to complete his master's in business administration.

On the field, Paulson was one of the best tight ends in the country. He finished his career with 67 receptions for 1,041 yards and 10 scores. He capped his senior season with a 10-yard catch in Oregon's 45-38 victory over Wisconsin in the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl. The Ducks (12-2), finished fourth in the polls, won their third consecutive conference title.

And now Paulson is a pro. Sundays promise to be different for the Auburn family.

"It's amazing ... You look at the paper and you see his name in there, it's kind of hard to believe," Scott Paulson said. "Such a small percentage make it."

Added Kristi Paulson: "We're real proud of him, with all the hard work. It was well deserved. It was fun."

"It's a dream come true ... it's a little boy's dream come true."

Big stuff for a former Auburn Riverside quarterback who made the most of himself.

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