Shalom Luani’s long wait came to an end five hours into Day 3 of the NFL draft when the Oakland Raiders selected the Washington State safety 221st overall, with the third pick of the seventh round.
Luani watched the draft with his family and girlfriend at his brother’s house in Scottsdale, Ariz. By the time Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie called to tell him he was a Raider, Luani says he’d already heard from several teams asking if he would sign with them as a free agent if he went undrafted.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Luani said in a phone interview Saturday evening. “I was just standing there so excited and happy and all my people around me. I just wanted to give them hugs and thank them for being there because the waiting process is something else. I’m glad they were there for me. It’s a dream come true. I came here to make my family proud and I proved that point.”
Luani (5-11, 202 pounds) was a two-year starter for the Cougars after transferring to WSU from City College of San Francisco in 2015. He now gets to begin his pro career back in the Bay Area, where he began his college football career.
Luani finished his WSU career as an All-Pac-12 first team selection, with 159 tackles and eight interceptions. A native of American Samoa, Luani grew up playing both football and soccer and scored the game-winning goal for American Samoa in its first FIFA-sanctioned win against Tonga in November 2011.
However, on the football field, Luani is best known for his athleticism and hard-hitting play. He showed off his speed as the top performer in the 60-yard shuttle at the NFL scouting combine in February and apparently impressed the Raiders during his pre-draft visit two weeks ago.
Luani said he knew Oakland was genuinely interested in him when his high school football coach in Samoa told him earlier this spring that the Raiders had asked for extensive information about his background.
“He showed me all the stuff the Raiders sent him,” Luani said. “But I wasn’t really sure (of their interest), then they asked me to visit.”
On his visit to Oakland, Luani met with Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio and all the defensive coaches.
“It was very fun. They put me on the board and asked me to talk to them about what’s happening in the film,” Luani said. “They talked to me about myself and talked about themselves. It was a bonding experience. It was great.”
Luani was the 23rd safety selected in this year’s NFL draft and the second safety drafted by the Raiders this weekend. Oakland also took UConn’s Obi Melifonwu with the 56th overall pick in the second round.
He’s the first WSU defensive back to be drafted since Deone Bucannon was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the 2014 draft and his selection makes this the fifth-consecutive year that WSU has had at least one player selected in the NFL draft.
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