When Pat Freiermuth first saw Pittsburgh’s 412 area code appear on his phone, he thought it was a buddy from Penn State prank calling him and pretending to be from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was no prank. It was Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who delivered the news that the Steelers were taking him with the 55th overall pick in the NFL Draft on Friday.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Freiermuth said.
In a conversation with the Globe before the draft, the 6-foot-5, 251-pound Merrimac native identified the Steelers as one of four teams he had a “really good relationship” with throughout the entire process. He also highlighted the late second round as a window where he could potentially be chosen.
The former Penn State star was on the money with those assessments, and he finally got to celebrate with friends and family in Massachusetts after months of buildup and anticipation.
“We had some great meetings with them throughout the process,” Freiermuth said of the Steelers. “I kind of felt like if I was there at 55, they might draft me.”
He said he values making the fundamentally sound play over the flashy one.
“I’m not one of those guys who is going to make a frickin’ spectacular juke move or anything like that,” Freiermuth told the Globe in April. “I’m a guy who’s going to catch the ball consistently, make the blocks that are key, and run over guys.”
Freiermuth began his varsity career at Pentucket High School before transferring to the Brooks School in North Andover after his sophomore year. There, he blossomed into the state’s top-rated recruit while playing for his cousin, Pat Foley, before heading to Penn State.
He became the second true sophomore in Penn State history to be named a captain and was captain as a junior as well. He is the program’s career leader in touchdown receptions by a tight end with 16.
Freiermuth only played in four games as a junior due to a lingering right shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. He said Friday that his shoulder is fully healthy and that he was cleared for contact three weeks ago.
Steelers tight end coach Alfredo Roberts referred to Freiermuth as a “throwback tight end” and highlighted his versatility from a position standpoint.
“His flexibility will allow us to do a lot of different things with him,” Roberts said.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. noted that Freiermuth has impressive body control and is tough to get to the ground after the catch.
Former NFL coach Jim Mora Jr. called him someone who’s what the NFL is looking for right now in a tight end. He said he’s a mismatch down the field for defensive players because defensive backs aren’t big enough and linebackers aren’t fast or athletic enough to contain him.
“He’s a guy that causes defensive coordinators headaches,” Mora Jr. said.
Other players with New England connections drafted Friday included:
Hunter Long, TE, Boston College: Dolphins head coach Brian Flores played at Boston College and is still connected to the program, and he brought one of his own to Miami on Friday.
The Dolphins selected Long, a 6-foot-5, 254-pound tight end from Exeter, N.H., in the third round with the 81st overall pick.
“He’s a typical Boston College player,” Flores said. “Tough, smart, team-first.”
Long led all tight ends nationally with 57 catches, finished second with 685 receiving yards, and added five touchdowns this past season.
He’s the highest-drafted BC tight end in school history, passing Tim Sherwin who went 94th to the Baltimore Colts in 1981. Long is the eighth BC player the Dolphins have drafted and the first since tight end Pete Mitchell in 1995.
Flores said the Dolphins got acquainted with Long at the Senior Bowl following his AP second-team All-American season. Long echoed that thought and believes it was a pivotal meeting.
“It was an awesome week for me, and I built a connection with them,” Long said.
Long is known for his intelligence on and off the field. He can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 47 seconds and also builds computers.
Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley called him a complete tight end and someone who will pick up an offense very quickly.
“The Miami Dolphins just made one of the best selections in the 2021 NFL Draft,” Hafley said.
Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse: The Grafton native went 101st overall to the Detroit Lions.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Melifonwu garnered second-team all-ACC honors last season and showed his versatility at the Senior Bowl.
“Some of his best work came in one-on-one periods against the tight end group,” said Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, a former Patriots scout. “You don’t get a good feel for just how big he is until you get right up on him. He is certainly one of the more unique matchup defenders in this year’s draft class.”
Melifonwu’s brother, Obi, was also raised in Massachusetts and was a second-round pick in 2017. Ifeatu said that after Obi participated in the NFL Combine, Ifeatu made a countdown on his phone for four years later – when he hoped his time would come.
Obi briefly played for the Patriots in 2018, and Melifonwu credited him for constantly motivating him to be great.
“I wouldn’t even call it a rivalry,” Melifonwu said. “We compete, and me being the younger brother, I just want to do everything he does and I want to do it better. From his end, he wants me to be better than him.”
Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State: The son of former Patriots standout Asante Samuel is now heading to the NFL himself.
The Los Angeles Chargers took Samuel Jr., a 5-foot-10, 183-pound cornerback out of Florida State, in the second round with the 47th overall pick.
“It means the world to me,” Samuel Jr. said. “I know that I’ve been grinding for this. I’m at home and I just want to cherish it with my family. Just soaking in everything right now.”
He had 31 tackles and three interceptions in 2020 and 97 tackles and four interceptions in three years with the Seminoles.
Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Samuel Jr. is a player he wants on his team.
“Feisty kid, tremendous instincts,” Kiper Jr. said on ESPN. “He locates the ball in coverage. He reads that quarterback’s eyes. He anticipates. He has that burst.”
Analyst Louis Riddick added that Samuel Jr. “plays a very smart game,” which stems from learning the sport at a young age.
His father was with the Patriots from 2003-07, playing on two Super Bowl winners.
“He was there,” Samuel Jr. said of his father’s involvement in the Draft process. “He just let me do my own thing but kept telling me, ‘Stay grounded and stay humble.’”
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