NEW YORK--Being selected for postseason all-star games in January turned out to be a suitable precursor of things to come for a trio of Arizona football players, as kicker Nick Folk, safety Michael Johnson and receiver Syndric Steptoe were second-day selections in the 2007 NFL Draft.
"These guys had a chance to show their abilities in the all-star games and had been on scouts' radar all season long," head coach Mike Stoops said. "I think that having four players drafted is testimony to our program's emphasis on developing players -- making them stronger, more fundamentally ready and capable of using their full potential. I think you'll see this kind of representation more and more by Arizona in future NFL drafts," he said.
Arizona had no selections in both the 2004 and 2005 drafts, then broke the ice with offensive lineman Kili Lefotu in the late rounds last year.
Folk, Johnson and Steptoe joined running back Chris Henry, picked No. 50 overall in the second round by Tennessee on Saturday, to give Arizona its biggest draft contingent since five Wildcats were picked in the 2000 draft, the most Wildcats picked since the draft was reduced to seven rounds. A record seven UA players were selected in the 14 rounds of the 1973 draft.
Folk played in the Senior Bowl, Johnson in the East-West Shrine Game and Steptoe in the Hula Bowl after their senior seasons in 2006. Henry, a junior, declared early for the draft and his stock rose steadily after some eye-opening marks in testing sessions at the NFL Combine and for individual teams.
Folk was the 178th player selected and a sixth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys, Johnson was the 224th player chosen in the seventh round by the New York Giants and Steptoe was the 234th selection in the seventh round by the Cleveland Browns.
Trung Canidate (Rams), Dennis Northcutt (Browns), Marcus Bell (Seahawks), Manu Savea (Browns) and DaShon Polk (Bills) were picked in the first through seventh round of the 2000 draft.
Folk becomes the first UA placekicker in the draft since 1994 Lou Groza Award winner Steve McLaughlin was picked in the third round by St. Louis in 1995. All-American Max Zendejas was drafted in the fourth round by the Cowboys in the 1986 draft but was traded to Washington before his three NFL seasons.
Folk was the first-team All-Pac-10 punter and league leader, but hopes to parlay his placekicking skill into regular work in the league. He made 15 of 20 field goal tries last year and 30 of 47 overall in his career. He was a candidate for top awards in both place kicking and punting in his career, plus earned first-team Academic All-Pac-10 last year.
Johnson is the first UA defensive back drafted since Chris McAlister was a first-round pick by Baltimore in 1999 as the 10th overall pick. Johnson was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 defensive back in 2005 when he spearheaded UA's victory at Oregon State with three of the Cats' six interceptions.
Steptoe will join former UA receiver Dennis Northcutt on the Browns' roster. UA's Bobby Wade was the most recent receiver picked in the NFL draft, a fifth-round pick by Chicago in 2003. Steptoe was a first-team All-Pac-10 pick in 2006 as a kick returner, and eclipsed school marks that had stood for decades by former UA great Theopolis Bell for career kick return yardage.
The record seven players picked in the 1973 draft were cornerback Jackie Wallace (2nd, Vikings), defensive end Bob Crum (3rd, Browns), running back Bob McCall (5th, Bengals), running back Marty Shuford (6th, Saints), defensive back Bob White (11th, Steelers), guard Jim Arneson (12th, Cowboys) and running back Greg Boyd (14th, Dolphins).
1972 All-American Wallace, UA's career No. 2 with 20 interceptions in just three years from 1970 to 1972, was clearly the most successful, playing in Super Bowls for the Vikings and Rams to highlight a seven-year career.