Almost seven months since he suffered the worst injury of his football career, Drake London walked across the NFL Draft stage in Las Vegas as the first receiver drafted and the No. 8 pick by the Falcons.
London's expected to be the next in line of the Falcons' great receivers. He'll rely on his innate competitiveness and the family bond that got him this far to do so.
By Kris Rhim
As Cindi and Dwan London saw University of Southern California assistant athletic director Gavin Morris running towards them, their son lying on the ground, tugging at his lower leg in the end zone at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, they feared for the worst.
Over their three years attending USC football games, Drake London's parents had gotten accustomed to knowing when a player suffered a severe injury. A USC staffer would run to the injured player's parents in the stands and escort them to the field.
So as they saw Morris coming towards them in the second quarter of USC's game against Arizona, they knew London had been badly wounded.
"If he's taken like a hit and gone down, he's always pumped back up," Cindi said. "We just didn't know what because we couldn't see from where we were sitting. What was he holding? Was he holding his knee? Was he holding his ankle? We knew it was something on his leg, but we didn't know what."
London ran a route he had executed many times before. In this game against Arizona, he was motioned inside. As the ball snapped, he quickly turned and broke into the flat, a few steps ahead of the closest defensive back. London caught the pass and strode into the end zone with a defensive back draped around him for his second score of the day.
As a teammate ran to London to celebrate, he stayed on the ground, grabbing at his right ankle.
Unable to put weight on his ankle, London was lifted on trainers' shoulders to a medical cart in the now silent Coliseum. London left the field in tears, with a medical boot wrapped around his lower right leg.
Tests revealed an ankle fracture. London's season was over.
"I was so heartbroken just because I saw my whole career go before my eyes," said London, who was on pace to have one of the best college receiving seasons in USC history. "I knew that would be the last time I played in the Coliseum, the last time I would have that jersey on, so it was a big emotional moment for me."
The six-month recovery process was the biggest challenge of London's football journey thus far. His stock fluctuated throughout the pre-draft process as he was not healthy enough to work out at the NFL Combine. Evaluators questioned his speed and how he would perform on his ankle.
Ultimately, the Falcons bet on London's skill, competitiveness, and character, which he has had since he was three years old, playing football in his childhood living room. And while the injury was devastating for London and his family, it gave him the rest his family says he desperately needed, and their support kept him upbeat all the way up to the draft.
"We looked at it as an unfortunate blessing," Dwan said.