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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Persistence and patience ultimately steered Dri Archer to his dream job, in Pittsburgh of all places.
Kent State's versatile speedster was selected by the Steelers in the third round of the NFL Draft late Friday night with the 97th overall pick, capping a long and rocky road to professional football for the Florida native who wowed fans and scouts with his acceleration and agility over the past two seasons.
"It's a great feeling. It's a dream come true," said Archer Friday night. "I couldn't be happier than what I am right now."
Archer will soon be wealthier than he's ever been as well. Last season's No. 97 pick, Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden, signed a four-year contract worth $2.68 million with the Tennessee Titans that included a $506,016 signing bonus.
Archer's draft status rose after he ran the fastest time in the 40 at the NFL Combine last February in Indianapolis, a 4.26 that's the second-fastest recorded in the history of the event.
Several scouts had his time even lower, including Pittsburgh running backs coach James Saxon.
"We had him at a sub-4.2," said Saxon. "It doesn't really matter -- the kid can run, you can see that on tape. There is no denying that part of it. The kid is a special football player with the ball in his hands."
Archer's size (5-foot-8, 173) and durability were questioned heading into the draft, but not his strength -- he benched 225 pounds 20 times at the Combine.
"The one thing, to the kid's credit, is he's as tough as any of the kids I've been around, and he's going to learn to do a number of different things," said Saxon. "We are going to try and put him in a position where he is going to succeed. Whatever way we can find to get this kid the ball or to have him involved in our offense, we are going to do that as a staff."
Archer starred as a kickoff returner, running back and wide receiver during his career at Kent State, which didn't take off immediately.
After showing promise during his first two seasons with the Flashes, Archer was forced to sit out the 2011 campaign due to an academic issue involving one of the classes he retook. That class did not count toward his credit hours, so Archer was declared ineligible just weeks before the start of the season for not passing enough credits to be considered a full-time student -- even though his grade-point average was solid.
Archer returned with a vengeance in 2012, setting a single-season school record for touchdowns with 23 (16 rushing, 4 receiving, 3 kick returns) while leading the Flashes to a school-record 11 wins and the Mid-American Conference East Division championship.
Archer's nine yards per carry and 36.9 yards per kick return both led the nation. He was a consensus All-American and Mid-American Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.
Archer considered declaring himself eligible for the NFL Draft following his junior season, but ultimately decided to return for this senior year even though head coach Darrell Hazell left Kent State for Purdue. A draft analysis for potential early entrees indicated that Archer would be a late-middle to late-round choice had he left KSU early.
Archer's much-anticipated senior season hit a snag in the opener against Liberty, when he suffered an ankle injury. He missed most of the next two games and never really found the electrifying form he showed in 2013, although Archer did have his moments -- returning one of the only two kickoffs he was able to field all year 100 yards for a touchdown against Northern Illinois.
Archer wound up rushing for 527 yards on just 68 carries (7.8 ypg), and caught 25 passes for 327 yards and four more scores.
Archer trained intensely once the season ended to prepare for the Combine, and his hard work certainly paid off.
"I really didn't have any expectations (heading into the draft). I just really took it one day at a time," said Archer. "(Pittsburgh's) a great city, and I'm going to be with a great organization and playing with a great group of guys."
Archer is the fifth KSU player to be drafted in the first three rounds since 1997. Last season the New York Jets drafted offensive lineman Brian Winters (Hudson) in the third round.
Archer was the third MAC player taken in this year's draft, and will join fellow former MAC stars Ben Roethlisberger (Miami) and Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) with the Steelers.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier