The Valdosta Daily Times
Edmund Kugbila has been chasing a dream, and on Saturday that dream turned to a reality.
Surrounded by his family, friends and former teammate, Jake Thomas, Kugbila was selected in the fourth round with the 108th overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in Saturday’s NFL Draft, becoming the highest drafted player in Valdosta State football history.
“When you come to DII, you hear, ‘You're not good enough,’” Kugbila told the Times, minutes after being selected. “Everybody’s dreams come true. My dream is coming true right now. It is an unbelievable feeling.”
A two-time All-Gulf South Conference selection (2011-12) and a third team All-American in 2012, Kugbila joins former Valdosta State linebacker Larry Dean, the school’s all-time leader in tackles, as active NFL players that once wore the Blazers’ black and red.
“My heart is racing and it feels like the national championship but even more exciting,” said Kugbila, who helped lead the Blazers to the 2012 Division II national championship this past December. “I can’t talk right now. I am just speechless.”
Carolina’s pick of Kugbila came just 10 picks after the Philadelphia Eagles selected Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley to open the fourth round.
After he helped lead the Blazers to the 35-7 win over Winston-Salem State in the national championship game in Dec., Kugbila did not return to Valdosta State for classes this spring. He, instead, moved home to Gwinnett County and began working out, training for the NFL.
He participated in the NFL Combine in Feb. before returning to Valdosta for his pro day on April 18. Kugbila then worked out for several NFL teams, including the Panthers. But he still had no idea the Panthers would be calling his name in the draft.
“Their O-line coach came down to work me out after pro day, and I talked to them a little bit, but that was it,” Kugbila said. “I had no idea they were going to take me.”
But, the Panthers did take Kugbila, who now has a future in the National Football League, fulfilling a quest and a dream he has had since his family integrated to the United States from Ghana in 2000, when he was 10.
He began playing football shortly after, graduating from Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville, where he received offers from Alabama, Georgia and other various top schools from throughout the south.
Low-test scores prevented Kugbila from qualifying with a Division I school, so he signed with Valdosta State, where he started 32 of the 44 games he played in as a Blazer.
“I'm excited and proud to be a Panther,” Kugbila tweeted later in the day. “I’m coming in humble and hungry and ready to work. #GATA.”
Kugbila will travel to Carolina next week to meet his new coach and teammates.
News flies fast, except to Dean
News of Kugbila’s selection moved quickly throughout the social media driven world. The former Blazer received several tweets on Twitter from former teammates wishing him congratulations and best wishes in his new career.
While many heard about Kugbila’s big day, Valdosta State head coach David Dean was unaware of his selection when it happened because of his commitment to the South Georgia Classic.
Dean was the walking scorer for 54-hole leader Will Wilcox and was on the course when Kugbila was drafted. He wasn’t made aware of Kugbila’s news until Wilcox was on the 8th green, when he was asked about it by the Times.
Upon hearing the news, a massive smile appeared across Dean’s face, clearly elated for his former player and his program.
Local players not drafted
While Kugbila was able to celebrate his draft day success, several other local players went undrafted.
Former Lowndes Viking Greg Reid, who was dismissed after three successful years at Florida State and eventually joined Valdosta State where he tore his ACL, went undrafted. He was a projected second or third round pick a year ago.
Former Valdosta State offensive lineman Ryan Schraeder, a two-time All-American, also went undrafted. So did former Valdosta High and University of Georgia linebacker Michael Gilliard.
All three will likely sign free agent contracts in the coming days.