PULLMAN – From FIFA to the NFL.
Shalom Luani’s gamble when he gave up a promising soccer career to pursue his NFL dreams paid off on Saturday when the Oakland Raiders picked him in the seventh round of the NFL Draft, making him the 221st overall selection.
Luani will likely play in Las Vegas, where the Raiders are scheduled to relocate as early as 2019. He was the only former WSU player selected.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper said after the selection, “I almost put him in the top-10 as far as draft-eligible safeties based on the way he was playing early-to-mid-season. He was around the ball a lot, real good instincts and awareness. On that Washington State Cougar defense he was the tempo setter. He was the ringleader of that defense.”
Safety was not considered a primary need for the Raiders heading into the draft, and Luani will have to compete with second-round selection Obi Melifonwu, unless the team moves the University of Connecticut safety to linebacker.
Luani is the first defensive player drafted from WSU since defensive lineman Xavier Cooper was taken in the third round of the 2015 draft. He is the first defensive back drafted since Arizona Cardinals made Deone Bucannon their first-round selection in 2014.
Luani, who hails from American Samoa, was a promising soccer player for the American Samoan national team as a teenager. But he loved football, and took an enormous risk by coming to the United States in search of a scholarship, eventually winding up at a junior college where he shared an apartment with 20 other people.
He blossomed into an All-Pac-12 player at Washington State, but nearly had his professional career derailed when he was arrested for felony assault following a late-night altercation outside a Domino’s Pizza. While Luani missed the team’s season-opening loss to Eastern Washington because of a team suspension related to the arrest, ultimately no charges were filed.
Luani is likely to wind up at strong safety, where he will make use of his solid abilities in run support and physical nature. While he is said to be lacking in lateral speed, in college he made up for it with exceptional instincts and was a regular playmaker in the WSU secondary.
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