Growing up in Kansas City, Oklahoma offensive tackle Donald Stephenson was a Chiefs fan.
Big for his age his entire life, Stephenson didn't dream of playing quarterback at Arrowhead Stadium. He knew his future. It was in the trenches. On the offensive line.
“That was my personality,” Stephenson said. “I've always been known as a humble guy who doesn't really care for the spotlight much.”
During a down era, his favorite Chiefs' season was 2003.
Kansas City finished 13-3. The Chiefs were the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. They lost a 38-31 shootout at home to Peyton Manning and the Colts in a game with zero punts.
It was a season in which Priest Holmes ran for an NFL record 27 touchdowns. Stephenson rattled off all five O-line starters without hesitating. Will Shields. Willie Roaf. Brian Waters. Casey Weigmann. John Tait.
“I love offense and that offense was really good,” Stephenson said. “Those guys up front were legendary in Kansas City. It was ridiculous how good those guys were.”
So you can understand why Donald and his mother, Ethel, were ecstatic when the Chiefs took him in the third round.
“It was huge,” Stephenson said. “I've always been an unconditional Chiefs fan.”
Extremely athletic, the 6-foot-6, 307-pound Stephenson climbed a lot of teams' draft boards after running a 4.91 at the NFL combine, the fastest time of any offensive lineman.
“I've been blessed with certain abilities. I knew I would shine at the combine,” Stephenson said. “I feel I played well my senior year but wasn't getting a lot of attention. The combine was huge for me. I just needed a couple of teams to look at me.”
The one negative in Indianapolis was he bench pressed 225 pounds only 19 times.
“They told me that I never played with a lack of strength so they weren't concerned. That's what I heard from every coach I talked to,” Stephenson said. “They said the biggest thing is I must improve my consistency.”
His NFL journey begins Friday with rookie orientation.
The Chiefs have a veteran offensive line. They signed Houston Texas free agent offensive tackle Eric Winston. But on the other side, Branden Albert, the No. 15 overall pick in 2008, is in the final year of his contract. He might be too expensive to re-sign.
It's an opportunity for Stephenson to earn the No. 3 offensive tackle job and be a potential starter in future years.
The story line gets even better. Under new coach Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs will rely more on being physical in the trenches.
Jamaal Charles is coming off a season in which he suffered a torn ACL, but he was one of the league's top running backs before the injury. Dexter McCluster is a scat back. The Chiefs also signed veteran Peyton Hillis. KC drafted Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray in the late rounds.
“They're getting back to running the ball,” Stephenson said. “All their guys up front can run, stretch plays. That's what I love to do. I feel I'm coming in at a great time.
“I want to be known as a guy who will work hard, help the team somehow. It would be great to be in the starting lineup but I'll be behind some great players. I can learn the playbook and watch those veteran guys.”
Stephenson attended Kansas City's Central High School before his mother moved the family to a Blue Springs apartment late in his high school career. She wanted to minimize potential dangers of the inner city streets.
That reminder was driven home even after they moved. Along for the ride with some of his childhood buddies, Stephenson and his pals were charged with multiple counts of burglary of a motor vehicle and allegedly broke into several cars, stealing an iPod, camera and other items.
It was the wake-up call for Stephenson. OU stuck with him.
Fast forward five years. A two-year starter for the Sooners protecting quarterback Landry Jones' blindside, Stephenson was the 74th overall pick to his hometown team.
“My mom has sacrificed a lot for me,” Stephenson said. “To turn out like this, she was so excited.”
A local analogy would be a 7-year-old kid in Oklahoma City dribbling a basketball on his driveway. He dreams of someday playing in the NBA. Fifteen years later that kid is drafted by the Thunder.
“It won't be hard to play with passion with the team,” Stephenson said. “This is the team I've loved since I was a kid.”
OU rookies involved in NFL mini-camps.
Pos. Player (NFL team)
DE Frank Alexander (Carolina)
WR Ryan Broyles (Detroit)
CB Jamell Fleming (Arizona)
TE James Hanna (Dallas)
LB Ronnell Lewis (Detroit)
LB Travis Lewis (Detroit)
S *Sam Proctor (Detroit)
OT Donald Stephenson (KC)
DS *James Winchester (KC
* undrafted free agent