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Calvin Pryor's former coaches laud him as truly a strong safety

Calvin Pryor of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates after

Calvin Pryor of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates after intercepting a pass during the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Oct. 26, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky. Credit: Getty Images / Andy Lyons

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The video told Rex Ryan all he needed to know about Calvin Pryor's hammer-size hits. But the Jets' coach needed intel on Pryor the person. So naturally, he turned to someone who knows the Louisville safety best.

"Whenever a team is going to take someone in the first round, they're going to reach out to you because they want to know exactly who they're getting," Texas head coach Charlie Strong said during a Friday night phone interview with Newsday.

Strong coached Pryor for three seasons before accepting the Longhorns' job in January.

"When they invest that type of money, especially into a first-rounder, they want to know for sure," said Strong, who has developed a good relationship with Ryan.

After conversations with Pryor, his former coaches and others, the Jets felt comfortable that the hard-hitting prospect would fit their scheme and their locker room.

It's far too soon to know how big a role Pryor will play in Ryan's defense, Strong said. "But I just know this: He's an outstanding player and he's going to work hard enough to make sure that he can make an impact . . . He's going to be exciting to watch."

Pryor had 175 tackles, five interceptions, 11 passes defensed and seven forced fumbles in the past two seasons. And as long as he's been playing football, he's been known as a bruiser.

On Thursday night, he and 30 or so family members attended the draft and reflected on his journey to a first-round selection.

"Just thinking back a couple years, I was in high school, just running around, didn't know what I was going to do, and now just to have this chance to play in the National Football League is a dream come true," the former centerfielder and former standout point guard said.

Chuck Gannon, Port St. Joe (Florida) High School's football, baseball and basketball coach from 1994 until this past season, recalled Pryor as a ninth-grader who was talented enough to keep pace with the varsity boys.

Pryor always was polite ("yes sir, no sir"), he said, a young man who didn't get in trouble off the field. "He was the type of kid you liked to coach," Gannon said. "From my standpoint, and I think our coaching staff at that time, we just thought that football was his ticket."

Jets senior director of college scouting Terry Bradway said: "As a scout, you have fun watching him . . . This guy just jumps off the tape."

Strong -- who called Pryor's 18th overall selection the "perfect pick" for the Jets' system -- praised his former player's versatility in the box and in the middle of the field "because he can go from sideline to sideline."

But though Pryor is best known for laying the wood on his opponents, he remains humble in the face of attention. And Port St. Joe, a city of less than 4,000, is a big reason why.

"Very small town," Pryor chuckled during his introductory news conference Saturday. "We have two stoplights, I believe."

But don't expect him to get swallowed up by the bright lights of the big city, Strong said. He described Pryor as "a natural leader" who makes everyone around him better.

"It's always business with him," Strong said. "He's not a guy that jokes around a lot. So whenever he takes the field, he's going to go out there with a business approach and it's all about him getting better. Whether it be walk-through or whenever we were game-planning, he's always been one of those guys who's just so focused and so locked in because he just wanted you to coach him and he wanted every small detail to make him a better player."

Gannon echoed those sentiments.

"Calvin, he's going to be a worker," he said. "I think that's what's said about him by everybody that knows him. Coaches know [these draftees] have athletic ability, but Calvin's going to put in the time and the effort to get on the field of play."

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