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From Chicago to Nashville: Making the Trip with Jack Conklin


CHICAGO TO NASHVILLE – On Thursday morning, Jack Conklin was a young man without a home.

On Friday morning, he was headed to his new one.

In the 65-minute trip from the Windy City to the Music City, the first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans talked about everything from his new dog, his taste in music to how he split a pair of pants the day before the NFL Draft.

But on the plane's descent into Nashville, things turned serious. Nissan Stadium was finally visible on the left side of the aircraft. The 6-foot-6, 308-pounder got up, leaned over and looked out. He thought about how much his life had changed in the last 24 hours while recalling a phone conversation he had with Mark Dantonio, his coach at Michigan State, the night before.

"I have so much excitement, and so much anticipation for a new start,'' said Conklin, selected 8th overall by the Titans on Thursday night. "Coach Dantonio said the No.8 in The Bible stands for new beginnings. And now this is my next step, to start something new. It is time for me to take the next step, and time for me to open a new chapter in my life. And a new chapter in winning games with the Titans."

Less than 24 hours after being selected 8th overall by the Titans, first-round draft pick Jack Conklin arrives in Nashville. (Photos: Andrew Hancock)

Dressed in Titans blue from head to toe, Conklin arrived for his flight on the team's private plane just before 10:30 a.m. at Midway Airport in Chicago. His mother and father were alongside him, along with his girlfriend, and his agent.

The group stopped to take a picture in front of the aircraft, the fireball logo on the back wing. Then they settled in, inside.

"This is a first,'' said Conklin's mom, Jennifer. "Thanks, Jack."

"It's all so surreal,'' she said later. "We are so proud of him."

Conklin, a no-star recruit from Plainwell, Michigan, paid his dues to get on scholarship at Michigan State, and in time turned himself into a Top 10 pick. His father, Darren, sat behind the couple's oldest child on the way back.

He admitted the emotions got the best of him when he heard his son's name called the night before inside Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre.

On Thursday night, the family had a low-key celebration, a champagne toast a few blocks away at the Palmer House Hotel in downtown Chicago.

"The next level hasn't really sunk in yet,'' said Darren Conklin, who coached Jack in high school. "It is great to see him grow. It is fun. And this whole draft process has been great.

"But the wedding is always fun. It's the marriage that counts and Jack is ready for that part. As much as he has handled the bright lights and the draft part of it, it's time to go to work, and that is where he shined. This next part is going to be fun."

The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Conklin.

He had lunch with Hall of Famers leading up to the draft, and then walked the carpet before the big event. He was interviewed with his family by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. Then he anxiously waited, inside the green room

When the Titans traded up to pick him, everything changed.

By his count, he quickly received 120 text messages from family, friends and coaches. He received one from Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"Congrats. Welcome to the Tennessee Titans,'' said Conklin, reading the text from Mariota. "Glad to have you on board. Safe travels. Enjoy your day. See you soon. Aloha."

"That was cool,'' Conklin said.

After falling asleep around 2:30 a.m., he woke up at 7:30 a.m. when his phone rang. It was Titans strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson.

"He was just checking up on me, making sure he had my numbers right to get my lifts figured out,'' Conklin said, smiling. "He was excited."

Conklin, his girlfriend Caitlyn by his side, made it clear he's ready to work. He didn't mind the early morning call.

Agent Sean Howard said the Titans should have no doubts about that part of it.

"We had a good laugh last night that Jack went from being not wanted, figuratively, to being the eighth overall pick of the draft,'' Howard said. "And I think that is just a testament to the person that he is, his work ethic. He wants to prove he belongs among the best. And, as he's said, he's not done yet. He wants to be the best player he can be, and wants to help the Titans win."

It's clear the Titans are thrilled to have him.

The team was initially scheduled to pick 15th overall in the draft, but traded with Cleveland for the 8th overall pick, and took Conklin.

Conklin started 35 games at left tackle in three seasons at Michigan State, and three games at right tackle.

Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk took notice of Conklin's stature when she greeted him at the door of the plane upon arrival. Kenneth Adams IV and Barclay Adams from the ownership group were also at the airport in Nashville to greet Conklin.

At the team's facility a few miles away, Titans general manager Jon Robinson and coach Mike Mularkey welcomed him in the building. He was scheduled for a photo shoot in his new uniform (#78), interviews and a press conference later in the day.

The low-key Conklin admitted he's not used to the attention. Standing on the airport tarmac in Chicago, his girlfriend put him in charge of holding her colorful bag.

The Titans select Michigan State OT Jack Conklin in the first round (8th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. (AP Photos)

"Some things never change,'' he said, smiling.

In Nashville, he asked his mom if she needed help before exiting the plane.

Then, he stepped into his new world.

"All of this, it is so exciting,'' Conklin said. "And I couldn't ask for things to work out better than they did. I ended up with a team I wanted to be on, and for the Titans to trade up to get me.

"Now I am here, in Nashville. I am just so excited to get started. I'm so appreciative of this, and I am going to work as hard as I possibly can to show them they made the right choice by bringing me here."

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