Bayonne’s Kenny Britt earned two slices of history Saturday evening.
First, the former Bayonne High School standout became the first-ever Rutgers University football product to get selected in the first round of the National Football League Draft, when the Tennessee Titans took the wide receiver with their pick in the first round, at No. 30 overall.
Then, he also created a piece of local history by becoming the first Hudson County product to get taken in the first round since the New York Giants took Jersey City’s Lou Cordileone out of Clemson the first round of the 1960 NFL Draft.
So nearly 50 years of drafts had gone by, but no Hudson athletes were taken in the first round until Britt’s name was called Saturday night.
When his name was called, Britt was waiting at home in Bayonne, rather than heading to Radio City Music Hall in New York City with some of the other potential draftees.
Waited in Bayonne for the news
Britt said he preferred to watch the draft on television at home with his friends and family. In fact, at one point, Britt gave up watching the draft and did other things.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Britt was quoted as saying in a North Jersey newspaper. “I didn’t need to sit and watch. Other people could sit there and be nervous. I was around the food. We had some really good chicken and rice here. I knew God had a team for me.”
Five other wide receivers were taken before Britt’s name was called, including Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina, who was taken by the Giants one pick ahead of Britt, with the 29th pick overall.
There had been some speculation that the Giants might snare the local product, especially after Britt had a favorable workout with the Giants two weeks ago.
However, it was believed that Britt’s stock fell somewhat after some television analysts branded Britt as a problem player. Todd McShay of ESPN labeled Britt as a “diva.” And a reporter from the New York Daily News wrote that Britt was a lot like former Giants’ troubled pass catcher Plaxico Burress.
Because of the reports, the Britt family was hesitant to allow media access to Kenny after the draft.
But afterward, Britt shrugged it off and told reporters that he was just pleased to make history.
Britt was one of seven New Jersey products to get selected in the first round this year. At Rutgers, he had caught 87 passes for 1,371 yards last season and ended his career as Rutgers’ all-time leading pass catcher with 3,043 yards and 17 touchdowns in just 34 games.
This week, Britt said that he had been receiving congratulatory messages from friends and teammates ever since his name was called Saturday night.
“Everyone has called me,” Britt said in a Tennessee newspaper. “My family wrapped their arms around me and gave me a hug. This is really a dream come true. For me it is like a little kid on Christmas. I’m really happy to be here and I’m blessed for the opportunity to live out my dream.”
Going to Tennessee
On Sunday morning, Britt was on a plane to Memphis to meet with the Titans’ organization and to get introduced to the press down there. He attended a press conference with the Tennessee media Sunday evening. It was definitely a whirlwind weekend.
On the Titans website, Britt responded to the scrutiny he was under during the weeks prior to the draft.
“It’s all part of the process and I understand that,” Britt said. “I love when people tell me I can’t do something. It’s up to me to try to shut them up. I believe I have the receiver attitude when I’m on the field and the ball is in the air. I believe the ball is mine when it is in the air. Other than that I just want to do anything to help my teammates out. That is how I have been since I was a little kid. It is more about winning the game and helping my team out than me personally.”
Britt told the Tennessee media that he had been working out three times a week in Arizona with former Denver Broncos Pro-Bowl receiver Rod Smith since January.
In fact, it was Smith who called Britt right before the selection to tell him that the Titans were going to select him. Smith and Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger have a long relationship together.
Bayonne roots helped
Britt said that his mental toughness and ability to play came from his Bayonne roots.
“That really just comes from me as a little kid in Bayonne,” Britt said on the Titans website. “I used to be outside all the time getting hurt and everything and playing through adversity. Regardless of what happens, I’m going to go out there and play for my team. Regardless I’m coming out there with broken ribs or something. That has been me my whole life. Actually I was the youngest out there playing football with everybody. Everybody was three years older than me because I have older brother that is two years older than me. I used to hang out with him and play football with him around the house.”
And it’s now made him a professional with a bright future.
Titans head coach Jeff Fisher was pleased to select Britt.
“We feel like he’s what we’ve been missing in our passing game,” Fisher said on the website. “We feel that he’s not going to have any difficulty learning the offense. He’s one of the few guys at the top of that group that really handles bump and run, can release. He has been taught to release and I think that’s one of the more difficult things to teach at this level or one, if not the most, difficult thing to be able to do early. And that’s what you have to be able to do to play early in this league.”
Added Fisher, “He is just what he says he is. When he is out there and the ball is in the air, he is going to go get it. You don’t see him kicking and scratching and stomping around when he doesn’t get it. He is a competitor. That is a competitive situation out there. You are lining up against some good defenses and good corners, you have to learn how to win.”
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano released a statement about Britt’s selection in the draft.
“The Tennessee Titans are getting a tremendous person and player in Kenny Britt,” Schiano said in a press release. “Kenny proved to be one of the nation’s best college receivers, and I’m sure he will have continued success as he makes the transition to the NFL. We are all very excited for Kenny and his family. We knew as our program grew, this day would come. Having Kenny drafted in the first round is an exciting honor for both him and our entire program.”
Although Britt was the highest draft pick out of Bayonne, he was not the only person drafted in the town’s history. There were three other former Bayonne High products to get selected in the NFL Draft in the last 30 years.
In 1979, the late Rich Dimler was selected in the fifth round by the Cleveland Browns. In 1993, Danan Hughes was taken in the seventh round by the Kansas City Chiefs and Hughes was a receiver much like Britt. In 2004, Jammal Lord was taken by the Houston Texans in the sixth round and the Texans then converted the former Nebraska quarterback into a safety.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.