SPOTLIGHT:  Draft is thrill of a lifetime, but it’s only a start

LIFE ALTERING:  Loyola graduate Jon Alston, shown playing for Stanford,  found the NFL Draft is much like life, requiring the ability to adjust and develop.

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

In his freshman religion class in high school at Loyola, Jon Alston had to write down his highest hopes for his life’s career. He wrote “NFL player” as his goal.

Nine years later, he was sitting at his grandmother’s house on Olive Street in Shreveport when that goal came true — he was chosen in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the then-St. Louis Rams.

“It’s such a big moment, not only for yourself but for your family who has watched you grow up playing football since you were a kid,” Alston says. “And now you have a life-changing opportunity. So you can’t really celebrate it by yourself. It’s good if it works out like you planned. Not so good if it doesn’t.”

In 2006, the draft was held over two days – three rounds on the first day and four on the second. The anticipation of waiting through the first day was tough enough for Alston, so he’s thankful he got picked before the first day was finished.

“You’re just sitting there and as they go by (with each pick), you have no idea where you are going,” he says. “That anticipation is tense. I knew I was going to be drafted, so I wasn’t really stressing on that, but I definitely didn’t want to wait around for that second day with all those people there.”

After an outstanding career at Stanford as a defensive end/linebacker – he had 10 quarterback sacks as a junior – Alston hit all of the usual post-college stops to prepare for the draft: East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl. NFL Combine. Then came the visits to meet with different clubs.

“I remember being on a plane a lot as soon as my senior season ended,” he says.

The Rams had met with him at the combine, but he wasn’t expecting St. Louis to take him.

“When I got called by the Rams, I remember thinking that was one of the last places I thought I’d go,” Alston says. “They told me ‘(head coach) Scott Linehan wants to talk to you’ and I didn’t even know who he was. I was like ‘Scott who?’”

“To be truthful, I really wanted to go in the second round to the (Oakland) Raiders,” he says. “But they took a better player – Thomas Howard.”

After spending a year with the Rams, Alston would play for the Raiders for three years and then a year with Tampa Bay before a series of concussions put an end to his career.

More than 15 years later, Alston has a different perspective of the draft.

“The draft is just a measurement of perceived potential.” he says. “That’s all it is. I don’t think a player should put any pressure on what happens in the draft. Have a five-year plan on what you want to be and how you want to get there. You don’t get to pick where you are going and that place might not be the right fit for you. You’re expected to succeed, but you don’t know what kind of politics within the team might be working against you that you don’t even know about.”

Alston was a three-year starter at Loyola and played just about everywhere for the Flyers – safety, linebacker, offensive tackle and running back, where he held the school record for rushing yards in a game (303) for 16 years. He was chosen as an All-State linebacker after 286 tackles in his junior and senior years.

The NFL Draft, he says, “is a lot like life. Getting in the right environment has a lot to do with your trajectory and how well you develop.”

Alston has certainly developed into a new career. He lives in Los Angeles and is an acclaimed writer, director and producer. His award-winning films include “Augustus” and “Red Butterfly.”

“I’ve been fortunate to be able to shift gears to another career that is also very competitive,” he says. “But my back story in sports really helps me stand out. Not a lot of people can transition from a lucrative, high-level occupation to the next.”