NEW YORK-He wasn't the first running back chosen, but that didn't make Thomas Jones' selection any less sweet.
A long road came to an end for the senior tailback Saturday when the Arizona Cardinals selected him seventh overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.
"It feels really good to have all that stuff over," Jones said. "Ever since the bowl game I've been kind of stressed out about the draft. It was a long process but after today, I think it was all worth it."
Jones earned a top-10 selection after a stellar senior year. Ranking third in the nation in rushing and all-purpose yards, he became the first consensus All-American from Virginia since Bill Dudley received the honor in 1941. Dudley was the only Cavalier ever selected with the top overall choice in the pro draft.
While Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown beat out Jones for that honor, when and where his selection took place didn't seem to matter to Jones, thanks to some advice from former Cav Tiki Barber. Now a New York Giants running back, Barber played with Jones in the latter's freshman season.
Jones also praised George Welsh and the rest of the Virginia coaching staff for their part in the successful track record of former Virginia players in the pros.
Jones was only one of five players present at the NFL Draft. Unlike the NBA Draft, which annually sees at least a score of hopefuls show up, the NFL affair is much more exclusive. Brown, LaVar Arrington, Chris Samuels and Peter Warrick were the only other players present. The invitation came a few months after Jones was snubbed from the Heisman Trophy awards ceremony at the Downtown Athletic Club last winter.
"Not to discount the judgment of the media and the Downtown Athletic Club, but these are the folks that put a high beam headlight on him as well as the other four and these are the prospective employers," Jones's father Thomas A. Jones said. "So I guess we're gracious that the invite came to this one as opposed to the other."
Jones should have a chance to start for the Cardinals next season. Michael Pittman, his only real competition for the job, ran for 289 yards and two touchdowns last year while struggling with injuries.
"I feel good as far as going to the Cardinals organization," Jones said. "I'm gonna take it day by day as soon as I get there, get a feel for everything and let the chips fall where they may. I feel like I have the ability to go out there and be productive early, and I just feel like I can go out there and play well."
Jones was one of four Virginia players selected. Center John St. Clair became the next Cavalier chosen when the St. Louis Rams used the final pick of the third round on him. The final two Cavs went in the sixth round, with San Diego taking linebacker Shannon Taylor and New England selecting cornerback Antwan Harris.
Getting drafted in a lower round didn't make the selection any less satisfying for Harris.
"I was outside getting a broom when the guy called me to tell me he was going to draft me," Harris said. "Then I saw the guy calling my name on TV. All my boys were congratulating me. Shannon called me to congratulate me."
Virginia fullback Anthony Southern, tight end Casey Crawford, offensive guard Noel LaMontagne and defensive linemen Maurice Anderson and Johnny Shivers were not drafted. However, all five still could be signed as free agents.
(Sports Editor Sam Le contributed to this article.)