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Saturday, August 30, 2014         

NFL DRAFT


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Slots hit the jackpot

The Rams take Greg Salas in the fourth round of the NFL Draft and Kealoha Pilares goes to the Panthers in the fifth

By Stephen Tsai

POSTED:


Mom cried.

Dad yelled.

And during a family gathering in Ontario, Calif., former Hawaii receiver Greg Salas yelled even louder yesterday after he was announced as the St. Louis Rams' fourth-round selection in the NFL Draft.

"Awesome," Salas said. "I knew there would be some receivers going in the fourth round. I knew I would be one of them. I'm ecstatic right now, really happy."

Less than an hour later, in a scene mirrored on Oahu, another former Warriors receiver, Kealoha Pilares, celebrated after being selected by the Carolina Panthers with the first pick of the fifth round.

"It's exciting," Pilares said. "I'm so thankful for the opportunity. Not so many people get to be drafted. I'm definitely grateful."

Both join running back Alex Green, who was selected by the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in Friday's third round, in the NFL fraternity. They will not be allowed to negotiate contracts or work out at their teams' facilities until the lockout is resolved.

Salas was the 112th selection. Last year's corresponding selection — running back Joe McKnight, by the New York Jets — signed a four-year contract that included a signing bonus of $572,000. Pilares' 2010 corresponding pick — tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, by the Rams, at No. 132 — received a signing bonus of $215,512. In standard NFL contracts, only the signing bonuses are guaranteed.

Neither former Warrior was concerned about finances yesterday. Asked what he would do with his first paycheck, Salas said, "Bank it, probably."

The figurative payoff came from being selected.

"Justification," Mark Salas said, referring to his son's hard work. "The Rams are getting a motivated player. Greg treats every play like it's his last down. He's always worked hard."

Salas caught 119 passes for 1,889 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010. Scouts marveled at his pass-catching skills following his participation at the Senior Bowl in January, NFL Scouting Combine in February and UH pro day in March.

During ESPN's telecast, analyst Trent Dilfer said of Salas: "The one thing about Salas is he's a guy you can trust. We talk height, weight, speed, get-open separation. Quarterbacks want guys they can trust. You can trust Greg Salas."

The Rams had indicated they would select Salas in the third round Friday. Instead, they chose Boise State receiver Austin Pettis.

"It was a bummer because we thought he would be picked there," Salas' mother, Teri, said.

The gathering was rescheduled for yesterday. Although the ESPN telecast would not start until 9 a.m. Pacific time, some family members begin showing up at the Salas house at 3 a.m.

After the first 14 picks of the fourth round, Salas' cell phone sounded.

"The (Rams') general manager called me," Salas said. "I didn't know if they were going to pick a receiver, because they picked one the round before. I was happy my phone was ringing, and the wait was over."

General manager Billy Devaney told Salas: "We're going to make you a St. Louis Ram. Would that be OK?"

After relaying the message, Salas said: "Everybody was screaming. Mom was crying. My dad was happy. He's a huge Rams fan."

Salas added: "I want to thank everyone in Hawaii — Kealoha, Mo (quarterback Bryant Moniz), the linemen, the other receivers, the coaches."

Salas' parents accompanied him on his UH recruiting trip in January 2006.

"Hawaii will always be special to our family," Mark Salas said. "It's very special to Greg. Hawaii won't be our last destination. Hawaii will always be our first destination."

In Nuuanu, an island son marveled at his good fortune.

In the first quarter of the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl, Pilares suffered a partially torn PCL in his left knee during a punt return. The rehabilitation forced him to turn down an East-West Shrine Game invitation, and limit his NFL combine participation to the bench press. At UH's pro day, Pilares was credited with running 40 yards in 4.42 seconds — at least two scouts clocked him at sub-4.4 seconds — and had a vertical jump of 40 1/2 inches.

"After I got hurt, there was a little doubt," Pilares recalled. "I met some great people on the way who really gave me some positive energy. They made me look at my injury in a totally different way."

One was Dave Austin, the father of backup quarterback Shane Austin. He is a motivation counselor who works with several professional athletes.

"He helped me get through it," Pilares said. "In life, you're going to face adversity. That's exactly what it was."

Pilares was the state's Offensive Player of the Year in 2005. He signed an agreement to attend the Air Force Academy. But after a few weeks at the prep academy, he requested a leave. He then contacted UH coach Rich Miano.

"He really helped me out," Pilares said. "If it weren't for that guy, I don't know if I would have been at the University of Hawaii."

Pilares paid his way during the fall 2006 semester, then went on scholarship in January 2007. He was a running back for two seasons before moving to slotback in 2009. Because of a season-ending injury to Rodney Bradley, he played wideout the final seven games of the 2009 season. In 2010, back at slotback, he caught 88 passes for 1,306 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"Playing wideout helped me out with the coverages when I went back to slotback as a senior," Pilares said. "Being a running back helped me with the blocking. It's been a full circle. It's weird how things worked out. But in the end, they worked out."






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