Rashaan Melvin came to Northern Illinois having to prove himself as a walk-on.
Four years later, the cornerback set an NIU single-season record for pass breakups with 17, a total that also led the Mid-American Conference, for a defense which finished the season ranked 21st in the nation in scoring. He finished his career second on the school's all-time list with 35 pass breakups.
Melvin wasn't one of the 254 players selected in the seven rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. However, Melvin's used to proving himself, and he's ready to do it once again after agreeing to a free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Going through this process, it's all about being a part of a team. ... From the beginning everbody has to work, everybody has to make the team," Melvin told the Daily Chronicle. "Nothing was ever given to me. Coming to Northern I didn't have a scholarship, I had to earn it. It's nothing that's new to me."
So far, Melvin is one of four former Huskies to hook on as a free agent. Wide receiver Martel Moore will join the Atlanta Falcons, who already have former NIU linebacker Pat Schiller on their roster. Schiller spent last season on the practice squad.
Fellow wideout Perez Ashford grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio and will be joining his hometown Browns. Defensive end Alan Baxter is headed to Pittsburgh where he'll be an outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 system.
Ashford grew up a Browns fan. He said he also had offers from Arizona, Houston and Miami but felt Cleveland was the best fit.
"I feel like I'm living a dream right now," Ashford said. "I'm blessed and I'm thankful."
Baxter is joining a team which already has talented outside linebackers in LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons and has a history of producing pro bowlers at the position. Baxter, who NIU listed at 6 feet, 240 pounds this past season, thinks he'll fit well playing in a 3-4 system.
“There’s going to be a lot of guys ahead of me that I'm going to be able to learn from," said Baxter, who was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2012 after ranking 32nd in the country with 9.5 sacks. "Going to be able to learn from the best. Like I said it’s a prestigious place to be, I'm really excited.”
In Tampa, Melvin joins a secondary which already includes former all-pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was recently acquired in a trade with the Jets.
Melvin said there were several teams interested, but thought joining the Bucs would be the best situation for him. One reason being he'd be able to pick Revis' brain.
"I just thought it was a great fit," he said. "They've got a great coaching staff. I got along with the coaches when I went on my visit. It felt like home."