weather icon Clear

Bears, Steelers select locals in 1st round of 2024 NFL draft

Updated April 25, 2024 - 9:28 pm

Rome Odunze’s hometown of Las Vegas is never too far from his heart.

Or, on one of the biggest nights of his young life, his feet.

Odunze walked to the podium at the 2024 NFL draft in Detroit in a fashionable all-black tuxedo and socks featuring the symbols of each of the four playing-card suits. The Bishop Gorman graduate was taken by the Chicago Bears with the ninth overall pick Thursday. He’ll be paired with Caleb Williams, the Southern California quarterback the Bears selected first overall earlier in the evening.

“I’m so excited to get to work from day one and go do something special,” Odunze said.

Odunze’s college teammate at Washington, offensive lineman and Liberty alum Troy Fautanu, was selected with the 20th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Man, I was a little crybaby,” Fautanu said. “I’m not going to lie.”

Odunze is excited because playing for the Bears gives him the chance to follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero: Devin Hester.

Odunze wore No. 23 as a youth football player in Las Vegas in honor of the return specialist, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year.

Odunze’s admiration was sparked when he found a YouTube video of Hester’s highlights set to a Lil Wayne track.

“I probably watched it over a thousand times,” Odunze said. “That just really inspired me. I’m a big fan of his.”

Odunze also looks up to some of the Bears’ current players.

He joins a receiver room that includes veterans Keenan Allen and D.J. Moore. Odunze worked out with both receivers as well as Williams in Los Angeles earlier this month.

“I’m hoping to learn a lot from them,” Odunze said. “They’ve been in the league a good bit and have been doing well for themselves for a long time. So I’ll just soak up the information that I can and learn from them and then hopefully go out and make some plays too.”

Odunze is excited to enter the NFL with his new quarterback as well. He and Williams can learn the league together.

“Caleb can sling the ball wherever he chooses,” Odunze said. “We can grow and develop alongside each other and learn what we need to do to have success in the league.”

Fautanu, who spent draft night in traditional Polynesian attire surrounded by friends and family in Las Vegas, also knows some players on his new team. The Steelers have two Las Vegans on their roster.

Former Desert Pines standout Darnell Washington is a tight end for Pittsburgh and former Foothill star Miles Killebrew is coming off a Pro Bowl season as a special teamer for the Steelers.

Part of Fautanu’s appeal is the fact he has the versatility to play tackle or guard in the NFL. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin already has a role in mind for the rookie, however.

“Right now he is a tackle,” Tomlin said. “We legitimately see him as a tackle. Position aside, he was the highest-rated player on our board.”

Fautanu, who had Steelers fandom instilled in him by his father and grew up idolizing Pittsburgh legend Troy Polamalu, isn’t picky about where he lines up. He’s just happy he has the opportunity to play in the NFL.

“It really couldn’t have gone any better,” Fautanu said. “I just want to be able to contribute in whatever role is given to me by the coaches.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

Like and follow Vegas Nation
Ranking the biggest NFL Draft busts of the last 30 years

A player being labeled as an NFL Draft bust can be subjective, but BestOdds.com has employed a simple methodology designed to create the most credible possible rankings.