NEW YORK — Khalil Mack got a piece of advice he heeded before the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night.
“Somebody told me not to cry,” Mack said. “I held it back as hard as I could.”
The tears he fought back would have been joyful ones after the University at Buffalo’s star linebacker was chosen by the Oakland Raiders with the fifth overall pick in the first round at Radio City Music Hall.
“I know the Oakland Raiders play nasty. I’m a football player that likes to get in there and get nasty in a good way,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of this team, man. I’m grateful.”
Mack said the moment his name was announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was a “big relief.”
“You don’t have to worry about any of this any more,” he said. “It’s all about football now, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Mack, who said he’s never been to California, is joining a Raiders defense that finished 22nd overall in total yards allowed in 2013.
“We don’t see anything but upside for him,” said Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie, who made it a point to attend UB’s Pro Day in early March to get a first-hand look at Mack.
Oakland coach Dennis Allen said his team was fortunate Mack was still on the board at No. 5, and that he “can do everything that we’re going to ask him to do. He’s a three-down player.”
Mack has his sights set high heading into his first professional season.
“I want to be Defensive Rookie of the Year,” he said.
Mack reminds Allen of the player who won that award in 2011 – Denver pass rusher Von Miller.
“I saw a lot of similarities between him and Von Miller,” Allen said. “I think the thing that really was attractive about Khalil Mack is the fact that he understands how to rush the passer and he understands how to rush the passer with power.
“Everything in the National Football League is about affecting the passer, whether it be offensively with weapons or whether it be defensively getting after the passer.”
After holding up a silver-and-black Raiders jersey with the No. 1, Mack was shuffled off to do several radio interviews. Sweat trickled down his face as the lights of TV cameras illuminated his face.
In the green room, his father, Sandy, tried to express what the experience was like.
“You see this on TV, but to be able to be here and see it first hand was amazing,” he said. “To have our whole family here was icing on the cake.”
Mack said his dad didn’t cry after he was picked – because he wouldn’t let him.
“He’s kind of like me, he’s prideful. He wasn’t going to let me see him cry. I told him I’d slap him in the back of his head if he did,” he said.
UB coach Jeff Quinn was also in attendance to share in the moment.
“He knows the challenges that lie ahead of him,” Quinn said. “It’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for him to prove himself against the very best in the country. I know he’s going to have an immediate impact.”
Making an impact is what Mack specialized in during his time with the Bulls. His 16 career forced fumbles set an NCAA record, and his 75 career tackles for loss tied a record.
“You can turn on the film and it’ll show for itself,” Mack said, when asked what type of player the Raiders are getting. “You’re getting a guy who’s going to go out and make plays and make it easy for the offense. I’m very excited.”
The Mid-American Conference has now had top-five selections in two straight drafts – after Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I’m more than excited to represent my school,” said Mack, who became the ninth UB player to be drafted into the NFL. “I’m ready to go to work.”