Former Razorback Zach Hocker became the first Arkansas kicker drafted since 1989, and fourth all-time, when he was selected in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins last weekend.
Hocker was considered one of the best kicking prospects in this year's draft pool after completing his Arkansas career as the program's all-time leading scorer and also holding career records for field goals made, field goal percentage, PAT attempts and PATs made. The Russellville, Ark., native was a second-team All-SEC selection as a senior when he was one of 34 kickers in the nation perfect on PAT attempts during the 2013 season and was 13-of-15 on field goal attempts with a long of 54 yards.
"Going into the draft, as a kicker you understand the reality of just making the league much less being drafted," Hocker said. "Most people try to go in and win a job as a free agent. I had heard positive stuff from the NFL Combine and individual workouts but you just see what happens. I was getting calls throughout the draft and would think it was the call but teams were just telling me to stay by my phone."
As the draft unfolded, Hocker watched the first few rounds as a fan before nervous energy got the best of him on the final day of the three-day event.
"I watched all of the draft Thursday and Friday," Hocker said. "I wanted to see when Travis (Swanson) and Chris (Smith) would get drafted. It was also cool seeing guys I played with at all-star games being drafted, so I watched all of the first three rounds. After about two rounds Saturday, I was tired of watching it and seeing the anticipation grow. I was pretty sure I would at least sign a free agent deal so I stopped watching and just kept my phone with me. When I got the call I was outside hanging out."
"The call" came approximately six hours into the longest day of the draft with Saturday featuring 156 picks spread out over the last four rounds. The Washington Redskins made Hocker the first of two kickers drafted this year with just 28 selections remaining in the draft.
"They called and asked if I was ready to be drafted," Hocker said. "He said, 'Well we are taking you right now, 228 overall, and you are a Washington Redskin'. It was out of left field to hear the Redskins. I was shocked but very happy at the end of the day. My parents were inside and I could hear them screaming when my name was announced on TV. I talked to (Washington head coach) Jay Gruden and then a couple of other people in the organization. I talked to personnel people, media relations and the travel agent to get my flight set up to come in this weekend. Then they said they would let me enjoy the rest of the day with my family. After I was drafted a big group of friends and family came over and we were able to celebrate the moment."
Hocker heading to Washington D.C. is yet another example of NFL decision-makers not tipping their hand prior to the draft.
"I only talked to the Redskins twice throughout this process," Hocker said. "My agent did a great job and had full confidence I was going to get drafted, but what teams tell you doesn't matter until you get that phone call. If you had asked me to list my top-25 teams that I thought would take me, Washington wouldn't have been on there but I'm happy to be going there."
Hocker had another surprise waiting after the draft when he found out his Razorback teammate for the last three years Robert Thomas would be joining him in The Nation's Capital. Thomas, a defensive tackle and 2013 co-captain from Muskogee, Okla., signed a free agent contract with the Redskins quickly after the draft concluded.
"I've never been to Washington D.C., and it's definitely comforting having someone I know there," Hocker said. "Robert called me about 30 minutes after the draft when he signed and said we were teammates. I had no idea he had signed, and it is awesome knowing you have someone you've grown close with over the last few years and having the chance to live out our dream in the NFL together. We are going to support each other whatever happens, and I think it will be fun. It's going to be cool to have Robert there throughout the challenge."
Hocker and Thomas officially begin the next step in their football career this weekend. The pair will join Washington's other draft picks and undrafted free agents for a three-day rookie minicamp beginning Friday.