The journey to the NFL began back in Birmingham, Ala., where a small-town kid dared to have big dreams that such a thing was possible. The journey continued in Huffman High School and the University of Alabama, where his burgeoning talent was cultivated. Thursday night, Marcell Dareus' journey reached its desired destination -- the NFL.
The All-American defensive lineman is now a member of the Buffalo Bills, who selected him in the first round of the NFL draft. Taken third overall, Dareus is the Bills' highest pick since Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith in 1985.
Needless to say, that choice worked out pretty well for the Bills. Dareus is expected to have just as big an impact.
But expectations were put aside for one night in place of the satisfaction of a player achieving his lifelong goal.
"I can't explain the way I feel," Dareus said after his selection in Radio Music City Hall. "Since the fifth grade I wanted to play this game. I never thought it would get to this point where I'm sitting here in the first round, third pick overall, the Buffalo Bills. It's overwhelming. I can't even explain it."
Dareus' excitement was tempered by the severe storm that ripped through Alabama on Thursday, taking the lives of more than 200 people. Among the cities affected was Tuscaloosa, the home of his alma mater.
Before the draft began, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asked for a moment of silence. Standing behind him were Dareus, running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones of Alabama and Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban of Alabama as well as Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley along with Tigers coach Gene Chitzik.
"The tragedy that happened in Tuscaloosa, it's a lot that we had to take in," he said. "Mark, Julio and myself talked about what we could do to help out. When things get settled we're going back to help out any way we can.
"I really can't wait to get home. The storm hit Birmingham pretty hard. My brothers and sisters were pretty shook up. Nothing really happened to my family, so I thank God for that."
There was a feeling of great anticipation before the draft as Dareus and 24 other gifted young men gathered in a waiting area backstage with their families, anxiously waiting to find out where the next chapter in their football lives will begin.
For fans, the NFL draft is one of the most exciting events on the sports calendar. For the college prospects that will be chosen by teams, the draft is a life-changing experience.
Dareus tried to keep himself busy as the draft was about to begin. He knew he'd be picked early, but by whom, well, that was a mystery.
The draft begins, and the first two selections are made. Next up is the third pick owned by the Buffalo Bills.
Dareus begins to wonder if this is it. Soon his phone rings. On the other end is Bills General Manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey.
Moments later, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks toward the microphone with card in hand to make it official:
"With the third pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills select Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle, Alabama".
Pandemonium ensues. There are smiles, hugs, high five, and yes, tears of joy.
As Dareus walks across stage to shake Goodell's hand and hold up the Bills' jersey, his family happily looks on. Everyone's faces are lit up like a Christmas tree, their hearts bursting with pride.
Indeed, this was Dareus' moment, but it was a time in the spotlight to be shared by all those who supported his life's ambition.
"I am absolutely ecstatic," said Pearson Woods, Dareus' older brother. "I'm really proud of him. I always think anything is possible. I never put any limitations on him and our mom didn't put any limitations on him. He worked hard to get where he is, and this night is his reward."