LOS ANGELES -- Gerald Everett's mother was sitting way up in the nosebleed section, but eventually he spotted her from the stage down below. And once he did, Everett never took his eyes off her. This was December, the day of his college graduation. He thought back to the promise he made as a high school senior -- that he would finish his degree no matter where this football thing took him. He thought about that junior year, when the scouts finally started showing up and his name kept popping up and he actually considered leaving the University of South Alabama a year early.
Briefly, until he ran it by his mom.
"She just gave me that look," Everett said, laughing. "I went back and told my mom that I wasn’t coming out early; that I would stay and graduate first."
Everett, who turns 23 on June 25, eventually earned his degree in communications, four months before the Los Angeles Rams selected him in the 2017 NFL draft. Everett was the 44th overall pick; the fourth tight end off the board -- after O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and David Njoku, respectively -- and the very first player the Rams chose.
Back when he made that promise to his mother, Alicia Wise, his path to the NFL was severely muddled.
Everett didn't play high school football until his senior year. He pursued basketball as a sophomore and junior, changing course because he remained 6-foot-3 and the Division-I offers weren't coming.
They never arrived in football, either.
Everett took his SATs late, about a week before National Signing Day, and major programs were put off by the thought of giving him a scholarship that he wouldn't eventually qualify for. Everett instead committed to Bethune-Cookman, but never liked the fit. He left, was cut from a community college in Kansas, transferred to another one and quickly lost two years. He transferred again to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, roughly 150 miles from his home in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and finally played an entire season in 2014. Then the program was shut down.
Everett kept going.
"I just wanted to prove those doubters wrong," he said in a phone conversation. "I knew the talent that I had, and I just knew that I was one of those late bloomers in football. And I just needed a little more time to truly find myself at that hybrid, wide-receiver-tight-end position. It just took some time, I guess."
In two years at South Alabama, Everett caught 90 passes for 1,292 yards and 12 touchdowns over a stretch of 24 games. He was an All-Sun Belt Conference selection each season, forcing 46 missed tackles from 2015 to '16, more than any tight end in the nation according to Pro Football Focus. He is freakishly athletic, a monster after the catch and a mismatch nightmare for linebackers and safeties. He can stretch the deep middle of the field, can line up anywhere -- inline, backfield, slot, outside -- and can create immediate separation. But he is also raw.
The Rams, who interviewed Everett at the scouting combine and during a top-30 visit, like the dynamic he can form with Tyler Higbee, another athletic move tight end who was taken in last year's fourth round.
They don't care that Everett came from a smaller school; they don't care that it took him so long to even find that smaller school.
"What I saw out of it was a guy who was persevering -- that's how I looked at it," said Rams national scout Ted Monago, who started to closely follow Everett immediately after the 2016 draft. "I looked at it as someone who has some grit about themselves, who wants to prove he can play at a higher level."
South Alabama's head coach, Joey Jones, first knew Everett was a legitimate NFL prospect in the fall of 2015, after he added 40 pounds of muscle and was thus no longer a tweener. But Everett, 243 pounds at that point, still needed refinement. He wasn't blocking well initially. So at one point, Everett asked the following question: "If I told you you had the rest of the year to block your ass off, and somebody's going to pay you $2 million, would you do it?"
Everett dedicated himself to blocking for the rest of that winter and ensuing spring. When he showed up for his senior year, Chase Smith, who had switched from coaching offensive linemen to tight ends, saw Everett as a willing blocker with elite strength.
That's when Smith knew.
Everett knew on Sept. 19, 2015, his third game for South Alabama. The Jaguars played against San Diego State, and Everett caught eight passes for 164 yards and a touchdown in an overtime win. The other signature game was the opener of the 2016 season, which ended with Everett catching the winning touchdown to give South Alabama its first victory against an SEC school.
"If you can find me a more athletic guy that can run routes, catch the ball, have these strong hands and get yards after the catch, I want to see him," Jones said. "I’m not saying he’s going to be better than any tight end ever in the NFL, don’t get me wrong. I’m just telling you this guy’s a beast."
When rookie head coach Sean McVay got on the phone to congratulate Everett on being drafted, Everett told McVay he wanted to be his new Jordan Reed, which is precisely what the expectation is, unfair as that might be.
Nobody got more yards out of his tight ends last season than McVay, the former offensive coordinator for a Redskins team that featured Reed and veteran Vernon Davis at tight end. The Rams, last in the NFL in yards each of the past two seasons, badly needed to add targets for Jared Goff but were without a first-round pick. Still, they traded down from 37th overall -- and passed on the chance to take receiver Zay Jones or guard Forrest Lamp -- because they wanted an extra third-round pick and because they liked the thought of drafting Everett a little bit later.
There are concerns about Everett's blocking ability, but Smith will tell you he has the desire to someday excel at it.
There have been critiques about the crispness of his routes, but Jones sees someone who comes out of his breaks in one swift step and thinks those reports are "a little overblown."
There are questions surrounding the fact that Everett played at a smaller university and didn't consistently face elite-level collegiate competition, but Monago believes one should "be careful with saying that."
"Yes, the NFL is big-school driven," he said. "But let’s not lose sight of kids, of players, who make the transition because of what they have inside, knowing that they can play."