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April 26, 2013

Short's special day filled with family, friends







EAST CHICAGO - This wouldn't have been right any other way, really.

Kawann Short had to be surrounded, swarmed eventually, by the most important people in his life on this day, the most important at this moment in his football career.

And he felt every ounce of support, encouragement, passion and love at about 7:35 p.m. Friday evening.

That's when his name was announced as the Carolina Panthers' second-round selection in the NFL Draft.

The bar that housed the group of about 45 members of his friends and family on East Chicago's marina erupted. Then they quickly made their way to Short, dressed in a plaid shirt and blue sweater vest and dress pants.

He was mobbed.

And it was awesome.

"Not everybody gets drafted, so you've got to cherish that," Short said after the bulk of the craziness had subsided. "This is something that's always going to be part of me. It's what I expected, as far as getting drafted. I worked hard for this. It's just a good feeling."

Short had individual workouts for two teams, the Panthers and the Patriots. He had a feeling he'd get picked by Carolina. But after it used its first-round pick on another defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei, Short wasn't so sure.

Short admittedly came into Friday night nervous.

Not that he thought he'd keep falling into the third round - he figured initially he'd go from 20-40 - because he said he thinks he's a "way (more) talented player than that."

But, still, the picks already were climbing past what he envisioned. One mock draft had him taken by the Titans at No. 40, but then Tennessee traded up to No. 34 and took a receiver.

Short bounced to a new table every 15 minutes or so, talking to family and friends at each, likely getting counsel and comforted. He did that for nearly 80 minutes when, finally, at 7:23 p.m., with Oakland on the clock with Pick No. 42, Short got a phone call from a 704 area code. It said North Carolina.

Short stepped out of the South Shore Club, stopping in the square, shallow entryway before he reached outside and listened.

It was the Panthers. Defensive line coach Eric Washington was on the phone, and he told Short that Carolina was going to take him at No. 44.

"My heart just started pounding as soon as they told me that," Short said. "He told me they wanted me and see something special in me. He told me to tell everybody to start watching (the TV). I felt like as soon as I walked (back) in, I didn't have to say anything. Everybody just started looking at me.

"After they called my name, the tears just fell out. I couldn't even hold them in."

Mother Yvonne Green was one of the first to try to wiggle in for a hug, pride welling up, along with tears.

She'd seen her youngest make so many strides to get to this point: Overcoming academic issues to get into Purdue, battling weight issues in his first season, handling high expectations to have a solid senior year and capping his days in West Lafayette with a degree.

"I can't even describe this," said soft-spoken Yvonne Green. "It feels great."

Older sister Tasha Green made the trip from Pennsylvania to celebrate. After waiting for nearly four hours on Thursday night at the bar to not see Short picked, she tried to stay positive and told him, "There's tomorrow."

And "tomorrow" was right.

"It felt like a big weight was lifted," she said of seeing Short selected. "We waited a long time for this.

"It's very special. I'm very proud of my brother. But his work has just begun."

That's certainly true.

Short figured he dropped out of the first round because GMs and coaches wondered about his "motor" and whether he could consistently play hard. He knew that was the knock on him entering his senior season at Purdue, so he tried to take fewer plays off. But he played a lot of snaps, sometimes rarely leaving the field, and that affected his desire to go hard every play, he said.

His film showed it, and he knew it.

So once the season was over, he worked hard, trimming down to 299 pounds, entering the NFL Combine. But an injury kept him from participating. He held his own pro day at Purdue and still had some scouts snapping at him to move at game speed.

But, overall, his upside and potential was too much to drop him too far.

"(Thirty-one) teams skipped me, so going in with the Carolina Panthers now and playing against any other team, I've got to destroy it. Me and Star are going to play next to each other, and we're going to make it a fun year," Short said.

Before he jumped too quickly into the next chapter, though, Short made sure to soak up the present.

He posed for pictures with nearly everyone at the party - and some who weren't even there for him. He signed snapped shots and signed autographs for patrons who just happened to be at the bar enjoying a drink. One gentleman had Short's signature on the back of his collared green shirt.

Short tried to keep off his cell phone to appease his guests, but it hardly kept silent. He was even getting handed other phones, trying to get FaceTime conversations in.

He gathered his family together for a group picture outside, using the boats and the water as a backdrop.

He latched arms around former Purdue teammates Albert Evans, Gabe Holmes and Tommie Thomas. He got a group shot with the East Chicago crew - one that included former Boilermaker and good friend E'Twaun Moore. They'd all seen him grow at different stages of his life, and that made Friday even more incredible.

"From roommates freshman year - this little junkie kid who wouldn't clean up the room - to growing with him til now is just crazy," said Evans, from nearby Gary. "It's exciting. To see what we both came from, from where we live and him just being an overweight freshmen they had to redshirt to going 44th overall to the Panthers, it's surreal. "Everybody is just happy for him."

By the end, he and his closest friends and family had chased the sun away, the deep oranges and purples tinting the pictures still being snapped.

And that was perfect.

"It's just a once in a lifetime thing," said Short, tears forming in his eyes. "To share it with my family and friends ... It was just an honor to share it."




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