ST. LOUIS — When he introduced six of the seven players the Rams selected on the third day of the draft, general manager Les Snead made sure to point out one player in particular.
No, not Michael Sam.
It was Demetrius Rhaney, a center from Tennessee State.
"We’re going to do one request," Snead said when he addressed the media. "We’re going to ask Demetrius the first question. Since we picked Michael at 249, and Demetrius at 250, I’m not sure if anybody knows we actually drafted Demetrius."
Asked how it felt to be the answer to a trivia question — Who was the player drafted immediately after Michael Sam? — Rhaney instead offered an answer about Sam.
"It feels good," Rhaney said. "I’m happy that they gave him the opportunity to be here, to play ball. He earned it. He had a good senior campaign."
It was a fitting answer from the 21-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who also answered questions about Sam on a conference call with reporters immediately after the Rams drafted him. The two players could be linked for some time, and Rhaney seems fine with that.
After all, both overcame significant obstacles in their lives to get here. Rhaney’s story includes more than his fair share of heartbreak.
"I went through a lot coming out of high school," he said. "Some transcript issues, so I had to sign up to a junior college in Iowa. I played two years there and then transferred over to Tennessee State. Coming out of high school, my mom passed when I was in middle school. And I lost my grandmother and my great-grandmother on the same date in high school, coming up into Signing Day. It’s been a long road, but I’m thankful."
Rhaney, the final player selected by the Rams in the seven-round draft, likely had the least celebrated college career of any of the Rams’ 11 draftees. But he could establish himself as a developmental prospect on the interior of the offensive line.
Rhaney played right tackle as a freshman and sophomore at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. He then played right guard as a junior at Tennessee State and center as a senior last fall.
"It’s different, but I learned to love it," Rhaney said of the center spot. "That’s what got me here, so I love it."
Rhaney impressed at his pro day at TSU. He recorded 24 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, had a vertical jump of 29 inches, ran the shuttle in 4.72 seconds and ran the 40-yard dash twice in less than 5 seconds. The vertical leap and 40 times would rank among the top performances turned in by offensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Rhaney will have an opportunity to make his mark with the Rams, who are thin at the interior offensive line spots after losing guards Chris Williams (Bills) and Shelley Smith (Dolphins) to free-agent deals and releasing Harvey Dahl.
St. Louis already had three centers on the roster in starter Scott Wells and reserves Tim Barnes and Barrett Jones. Rodger Saffold and rookie No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson could be the starters at guard, with Jones, youngster Brandon Washington and Rhaney in the mix as reserves.
Rhaney has also proven to be a quick study.
Just minutes after he was drafted, he was asked about his new team’s offensive line and pointed out a little-known fact about Wells that links the two players.
"They’ve got some pretty good players," Rhaney said. "Their center (Wells), he was also drafted in the seventh round. I’m just ready to come in and compete and play some ball."
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