This is the fifth and final installment in a series of stories following former Stony Brook star Miguel Maysonet on his journey to the NFL draft.
After one of the longest days of his life, Miguel Maysonet returned Sunday to comfortable surroundings -- the Stony Brook football stadium, where for three autumns he was the show.
Maysonet, attending the Stony Brook spring game, was stopped immediately by well-wishers, including the parents of kicker Ben Solis, Philadelphia Eagles fans from Pennsylvania. They asked him to sign a few Eagles caps, gave him an Eagles T-shirt to keep and handed him the sports section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which mentioned his name.
It's official: He's a member of the Eagles after agreeing to a free-agent contract Saturday night.
With the T-shirt draped over his right shoulder, Maysonet walked down to the field and past the cheerleaders. They recognized him instantly behind the sunglasses and greeted his arrival with a brief cheer. He smiled. It was a good moment, almost a great moment.
This wasn't how Maysonet envisioned his return. His goal was to become the first player in school history to be drafted, but he wasn't among the 254 players selected over the three-day event. The snub provided a hard lesson about the business of the NFL, but it also steeled his determination.
"I was a little bit upset at first that I didn't get drafted," he said. "But it doesn't matter how you get to the NFL. The only thing that matters is what you do when you're there. I'm going to try to prove them wrong, all the teams that passed up on me. I'll show them I'm a good running back."
Maysonet was perhaps the best on the FCS level, rushing for more than 1,900 yards last season. He was the first Stony Brook player to attend the scouting combine and projected as a possible late-round pick, with ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay calling him one of the top sleepers.
On Saturday, Maysonet received calls from several teams throughout the draft, each one expressing interest. In the end, 22 running backs were chosen by 18 different teams -- a seven-hour emotional rollercoaster that left him exhausted.
"It was a little frustrating," said Maysonet's agent, Joe Linta. "Listening to the phone calls, you would've thought he'd be drafted by five teams in the last two rounds."
Maysonet watched the draft from his home in Riverhead, Long Island, where he was supported by more than 70 friends and family members. It started as a party, turned into a vigil and ended a as party.
Everybody loves a feel-good story. Maysonet endured a tough childhood, living in a small apartment above an auto repair shop. His mother worked two jobs and couldn't afford the cost of Pop Warner football, so he didn't play organized ball until the seventh grade. He was a natural, captivating people with his skill and upbeat personality.
So it was no surprise that his house was filled with well-wishers, hoping to hear his name called at Radio City Music Hall.
The anticipation started early. At 11:30 a.m., before the fourth round, Maysonet received a text and follow-up call from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Maysonet went to the backyard to hang out, playing Frisbee with friends. The mood was festive, but it took a turn toward tense when he received a call from the Pittsburgh Steelers at the bottom of the fifth round.
We're very interested.
The Steelers told him they'd strongly consider him with one of their two picks in the sixth round. They ended up selecting Penn State wide receiver Justin Brown and Florida State linebacker Vince Williams.
"I wasn't worried about it until I got that Pittsburgh call," Maysonet said. "They really got my hopes up ... I went inside and it started to hit me: 'Man, it's getting shorter and shorter. This whole draft thing might not happen.'"
Other teams called. It's part of the draft routine, teams calling around to check up on prospective picks and letting them know they'd be interested in signing them to free-agent contracts.
Whenever his cell phone rang, the place went "dead silent," he said. A local TV crew and photographers from two newspapers stuck their lenses in his face, waiting for the priceless reaction of a local kid realizing his NFL dream.
It never happened. Maysonet felt like Geno Smith in the green room at Radio City. There was one false alarm after another.
Phone call. Silence. Sigh.
"It made me feel weird," Maysonet said. "They were calling me, but they were drafting other backs. I didn't know what to think. I kept my cool about the whole situation. I just waited and waited and waited."
In the middle of the seventh round, he received a call from Linta, who told him he probably wouldn't get drafted but that he'd start working on potential free-agent deals.
There was one last hope. With the next-to-last pick in the draft, 253rd overall, the Giants were on the clock. Maysonet attended their pro day for local prospects and received positive feedback from their scouts. There were plenty of Giants fans in his house, so this had a chance to be the storybook ending.
The Giants picked a running back, but it was Michael Cox of UMass, a Michigan transfer who ran for only 715 yards last season -- less than half of Maysonet's production.
A few minutes later, Maysonet got another call from Linta, who told him nine teams wanted to sign him. They discussed it and decided on the Eagles.
Typically, an undrafted free agent receives a signing bonus of anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000. The Eagles really liked Maysonet, so they sweetened it. He agreed to the contract and was told to report on Thursday for rookie minicamp, where he will start to learn Chip Kelly's high-octane offense.
If Maysonet was disappointed that he didn't get drafted, he didn't show it. He gave an interview to the local TV station that had camped out in his home, saying all the right things. No one was surprised by his classy response.
The best moment -- maybe the best moment of the last four months -- occurred at the end of the interview. Unbeknownst to Maysonet, the partygoers had snuck up behind him during the interview. When it was over, they exploded with applause and cheers.
Champagne corks popped and the bubbly flowed. Maysonet was drenched in a champagne shower, some of it stinging his eyes.
"They were burning," he said. "But it was worth it."