NFL bound

By Matt Stacionis

Justin McCareins and Ryan Diem can breathe more easily tonight.

On Sunday, The duo became NIU’s first multi-player NFL draft combo since 1987, with Diem selected by the Indianapolis Colts (pick 118) and McCareins nabbed by the Tennessee Titans (pick 124) in the fourth round of the draft.

“It took a bunch of weight off of my shoulders,” McCareins said in a phone interview after he found out he had been drafted.

Diem was selected around his predicted time, while McCareins was picked two rounds ahead of what was expected. Both players watched the drafts, which were televised on ESPN and ESPN2, from their parents’ homes.

As the 118th pick, Diem became the fifth-highest NIU selection in the NFL draft ever, behind defensive tackle Scott Kellar, and McCareins ranks as sixth-best. McCareins enters a team that was a Super Bowl runner-up two seasons ago and has lost the majority of its receiving core to free agency. NIU head coach Joe Novak said McCareins has a great opportunity with Tennessee’s current situation. The Titans return receiver and kickoff and punt returner Kevin Dyson, whose brother was selected with the Titans’ first pick and quarterback Steve McNair.

“They called me up about five minutes before (being picked),” McCareins said. “‘Are you ready to become a Titan?’ I talked to the general manager and coach (Jeff) Fisher. While we were talking, they (ESPN) put me on the screen. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. Coach Fisher said they expect me to come in and play right away. It’s a good opportunity because they need receivers.”

Last year, McCareins finished with 1,168 receiving yards, and Novak thinks he might see some playing time with the team next season.

“Those are two great organizations,” Novak said, admitting he was also a little nervous for his players. “Plus, they’re close to home.”

McCareins also feels positive about his opportunity to play in the NFL next season, and is ready to start now.

“I’m glad I went there,” he said. “I wouldn’t have guessed it would have been the Titans. I can’t wait to play ball with those guys.”

McCareins said the Titans had called the NIU coaches and his parents over the last few weeks, expressing an interest in him, but he was a little surprised that they selected him.

Diem, who scored the highest in the country on the draft intelligence test given to all players, was tested in the 40 running as low as a 5.05. He also has the opportunity to play for a playoff team — the Colts, led by the offensive trio of Peyton Manning, Edgerin James and Marvin Harrison.

The 6-foot-7-inch tackle was listed as a guard even though he played all four seasons at NIU as a tackle. Novak said the Colts had been out to test Diem after the combine and had expressed interest for him.

“About a minute before they picked me, the Colts called,” Diem said. “First, it was the secretary, then the president of the franchise and coach (Jim) Mora. He said: ‘Congratulations. Welcome to our team.’ It really hasn’t sunk in yet. Thursday when I get to Indy, I think it will sink in that I’m a member of the Colts. I was a little surprised. I was thinking Jacksonville or a few others that I had workouts with. But this is real good.”

Other big-name players selected in the fourth round were Auburn running back Rudi Johnson and Rockford native and Nebraska linebacker Carlos Polk.

“I was surprised he was not taken earlier,” McCareins said of Diem.

Novak feels that the draft will help him and his staff during recruiting, because both Diem (Carroll Stream) and McCareins (Naperville) were local recruits. He also pointed out that NIU had two players taken before five different Big Ten teams had a player selected, which he felt helped establish NIU’s credibility.