(Sports Network) - The 40-yard dash, the bench press, the 3-cone drill, none of the drills and measurements at the NFL Combine carried more importance for Montori Hughes than the interviews with teams.
The hulking defensive tackle, who settled for two years on the FCS level at UT Martin after being dismissed from the University of Tennessee in 2011, coveted the chance to explain his past transgressions and let teams get the feeling that he no longer has character issues.
The Indianapolis Colts were listening and they clearly liked what they heard as much as they saw in the 6-foot-4, 329-pound big man. Having showed a lot of interest in Hughes in recent months, they traded up in the fifth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday to select him with the 139th overall pick.
He was UT Martin's 12th all-time draft choice, but its first since the Seattle Seahawks took Fred Thomas in the second round in 1996.
"They asked a lot of questions," Hughes said as he looked back on the draft process shortly after his NFL dream came true.
"There's a lot of perceptions and people get their own opinions of me out there. But I feel like when the teams sit down and when the coach sits down and talk to me that they really got a feel for who I really was.
"Just understanding who I really was and not taking all the opinions and what was floating (around) and what I've been through, just throwing it out the window and taking time to understand who I was and where I was coming from and what happened in every situation."
Hughes basically has a clean slate again and there's no excuse for him not to keep it that way. Lots of money and a potential solid career should be enough to motivate him.
A former Tennessee recruit under Lane Kiffin, Hughes was productive on the field for two seasons, but he was suspended from the Volunteers' 2010 regular- season finale and from team activities the following offseason for violating team academic rules. Later, he was involved in a dorm-room incident and the school then gave him the boot in May 2011.
He felt humbled by the dismissal, so he embraced the second chance from UT Martin and head coach Jason Simpson with a different attitude. He became an Ohio Valley Conference first-team standout and a second-team FCS All-American while, most importantly, staying out of trouble off the field.
Thick all around, Hughes is fast off the snap as he gets after ball carriers. Despite often facing double teams in the trenches, he tallied 72 tackles (29 solo), 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and 16 quarterback hurries over 22 games at UT Martin.
"Everything happens for a reason, and all the mistakes that I made as a young man, I've learned from," Hughes said. "That's what makes you who you are as a person - the adversity you go through and how you handle the adversity through your life.
"It's just a blessing. Growing up as a little kid, you always dream about the opportunity of playing in the NFL. Right now it's just living a dream, and I'm living a dream. I'm ready to go work so I can be the best that I can be. This is just a step in the door, but the sky's the limit if you put in the hard work."
PRIME TIME PLAYER
Deion "Prime Time" Sanders announced the selection Friday night when his first NFL team, the Atlanta Falcons, grabbed Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford in the second round as the draft's first FCS selection.
"I know the Atlanta Falcons are a team that I've been following since I was a little boy," Alford said. "I always looked up to Deion and that was the first team that Deion ever played for, so it felt real good for Deion to announce my name. It was like two things came together at once and I'm very excited about it."
ALL HAIL ... THE IVY LEAGUE?
The Ivy League had just three players drafted in the past six years, but it equaled that total with a superb day on Saturday.
The Green Bay Packers took Cornell offensive lineman J.C. Tretter and the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens picked Harvard H-back Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round, and the Kansas City Chiefs went for Princeton defensive end Mike Catapano in the seventh round.
The Ivy League last had three selections in a draft in 2001.
STILL A DRAFT PIPELINE
Appalachian State was the only FCS school with more than one selection. Punter Sam Martin was a fifth-round selection by the Detroit Lions and the Jacksonville Jaguars picked cornerback Demetrius McCray in the seventh round.
Montana and South Carolina State didn't have any selections this year, leaving Appalachian State as the only FCS school with at least one selection in each of the last four years.
Of course, this coming season is the last for the Mountaineers in the FCS as the Southern Conference program will move to the Sun Belt Conference in the FBS next year.
PICKS BY CONFERENCE
Speaking of the Southern Conference, it led the FCS with the most draft selections with five, led by Georgia Southern strong safety J.J. Wilcox going to the Dallas Cowboys in the third round.
The conference breakdown of selections:
5 - Southern Conference
4 - CAA Football
3 - Ivy League
2 - Ohio Valley Conference
1 - Big Sky Conference, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Missouri Valley Football Conference, Southland Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference
FCS SELECTIONS IN 2013 NFL DRAFT
Day 1 - Thursday
Day 2 - Friday
Atlanta Falcons (2nd round, 60th overall selection) - Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana, 5-10, 188. "He will be one of, if not, the fastest guy on our team," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said of Alford, who clocks 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
New Orleans Saints (3rd, 75) - Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 6-5, 308. Workout wonder who has the size, strength and speed to develop into a starting left tackle.
Dallas Cowboys (3rd, 80) - J.J. Wilcox, SS, Georgia Southern, 6-0, 213. Having played offense for three seasons, Wilcox knows how to defend it these days.
Day 3 - Saturday
Dallas Cowboys (4th, 114) - B.W. Webb, CB, William & Mary, 5-10, 184. Opposing teams shied away from him after he picked off eight passes as a freshman.
Arizona Cardinals (4th, 116) - Earl Watford, OG, James Madison, 6-3, 300. Athletic and quick, he allowed only one sack and had 25 knockdowns as a senior.
Green Bay Packers (4th, 122) - J.C. Tretter, OT, Cornell, 6-4, 307. Added 70 pounds after arriving at Cornell as a tight end, the position he played for two seasons.
Baltimore Ravens (4th, 130) - Kyle Juszczyk, H-back, Harvard, 6-1, 248. Capable of picking up the tough yards, he can play tight end, fullback or H- back.
Indianapolis Colts (5th, 139) - Montori Hughes, DT, UT Martin, 6-4, 329. NFL- sized nose tackle who should be a rotation-type player.
New York Giants (5th, 152) - Cooper Taylor, S, Richmond, 6-4, 228. Big safety who transferred in from Georgia Tech is the son of a former NFL player, Jim Bob Taylor (Baltimore Colts).
Detroit Lions (5th, 165) - Sam Martin, P, Appalachian State, 6-1, 205. Four- year starter had 226 career punts with the Mountaineers, averaging 45.9 yards as a senior.
Green Bay Packers (6th, 193) - Nate Palmer, OLB, Illinois State, 6-3, 240. Impressive pro day and workouts lifted the pass rusher among teams.
Houston Texans (6th, 195) - Alan Bonner, WR, Jacksonville State, 5-10, 193. Finished strong as a senior and offers punt return skills.
Kansas City Chiefs (7th, 207) - Mike Catapano, DE, Princeton, 6-3, 271. Ivy League defensive player of the year is a fierce pass rusher.
Jacksonville Jaguars (7th, 210) - Demetrius McCray, CB, Appalachian State, 6-1, 187. Big-sized cover corner led the Southern Conference in interceptions twice.
San Diego Chargers (7th, 221) - Brad Sorensen, QB, Southern Utah, 6-4, 229. The Thunderbirds' first-ever draft choice is one of the more-traveled prospects around. He was at Brigham Young and San Bernardino Valley College and went on a two-year LSD mission in Spain before his three excellent seasons at SUU.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7th, 223) - Nick Williams, DT, Samford, 6-4, 309. Athletic and agile for his size, clocking 4.94 seconds in the 40, he gets to quarterbacks from the interior of the line.
Baltimore Ravens (7th, 238) - Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon, 6-2, 217. Possession receiver reeled in 296 passes and 42 touchdowns over his final three seasons.
Seattle Seahawks (7th, 241) - Jared Smith, DT, New Hampshire, 6-3, 302. Quick for his size, Smith is a five-technique who can get into either side of an opponent's backfield.
Detroit Lions (7th, 245) - Brandon Hepburn, ILB, Florida A&M, 6-2, 240. A player who entered his MEAC school on an academic scholarship, Hepburn's versatility drew attention from scouts.
RISERS AND FALLERS
Risers - Juszczyk (Packers) in fourth round, Taylor (Giants) and Martin (Lions) in fifth round, and Palmer (Packers) in sixth round
Fallers - Mellette (Ravens) in seventh round, and wide receivers Da'Rick Rogers or Tennessee Tech and Brandon Kaufman of Eastern Washington, who were undrafted
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
Going undrafted can be an advantage for some players because they can pick a team that offers a favorable situation for them.
Some of the top undrafted free agents available from FCS schools are Rogers, Kaufman, fellow wide receiver Tyrone Goard of Eastern Kentucky, Sam Houston State cornerback Dax Swanson, Stony Brook running back Miguel Maysonet, Tennessee State offensive tackle Rogers Gaines, Georgia Southern defensive tackle Brent Russell, free safeties Jakar Hamilton of South Carolina State and Ben Ericksen of Illinois State, and linebackers Jeremy Kimbrough of Appalachian State, Keith Pough of Howard and Jayson DiManche of Southern Illinois.
NEXT YEAR'S CLASS
This was a down year for the Missouri Valley draft class this year - one selection - but that should not be the case next year.
North Dakota State's Marcus Williams is the No. 6-rated cornerback for 2014, according by CBS Sports. Also, the rankings list Indiana State's Shakir Bell as the No. 7 running back. In addition, 6-foot-4, 236-pound outside linebacker Tyler Starr of South Dakota has good size and pass rushing ability.
Stony Brook's Marcus Coker is a running back to watch as well and the offensive line candidates boast Stony Brook's Michael Bamiro (6-8, 345) and Montana's Danny Kistler (6-8, 315).
Kistler's teammate, Jordan Tripp, is a big, athletic linebacker who should be on the NFL radar.
The Ivy League can follow up this year's Tretter-Juszczyk-Catapano trio with a strong duo, Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid and Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews.
One player who should rise by next year's draft is Towson cornerback Jordan Love, who is longer, maybe even faster than Williams at NDSU.