Ryan Pickett of Zephyrhills, a first-round selection by St. Louis in the NFL draft, is honored by the city and says Pasco County will always be his home.
By BRADY DENNIS
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001
ZEPHYRHILLS -- It was an odd sight Monday evening, the usually empty City Council chambers brimming with people.
Amid the crowd, there was a young man sitting in the second-to-last row, wearing a black T-shirt, sporting a St. Louis Rams cap. At 21, he is soon to be the richest man in the room -- by a country mile.
He was the one they came to honor, to get a glimpse of. It was "Big Grease," also known as Ryan Pickett, the former Zephyrhills High School and Ohio State University football star who was chosen by the Rams with 29th pick of the NFL draft on Saturday.
It was a whirlwind tour that landed him in that seat in council chambers on Monday evening. Early Sunday morning, he flew to St. Louis to meet with Rams officials. He caught a flight back to Florida on Sunday night, and by Monday evening was at Zephyrhills High lifting weights.
About 20 friends and family members made the trip to city hall Monday to see Mayor Roy Burnside present Pickett with a mahogany plaque honoring his achievements, after which the chamber erupted in a standing ovation.
Council member Clyde Bracknell jokingly asked if Pickett would be giving the city anything in return.
"So will you be presenting us with a check also?" Bracknell said, to resounding laughter.
Outside, Pickett said the award was special because it came from his hometown.
"It's amazing. It makes me feel happy because I'm representing Zephyrhills," he said. "I've been here since I was a kid, and I've always been proud to be from Zephyrhills."
Pickett said no matter where his NFL career carries him, he'll always call this corner of Pasco County home.
"I'm never leaving here. This is my roots," he said. "When I have kids, they are going to Zephyrhills (High School). This is a great community."
Pickett's high school coach, Tom Fisher, also came to the award presentation. He said Pickett has earned every accolade he has received, as well as the lucrative NFL career ahead of him.
"He's a good kid with a good family," Fisher said. "That's going to help him out a lot. I'm glad to be a part of it. I'm just happy for him and happy for his family."
Standing in the parking lot surrounded by family, photographers and other admirers, Pickett cradled his plaque as if it were a football. But he admitted it wasn't the only piece of hardware he is after.
"One of these plaques and a Super Bowl ring," said Pickett. "That would be a dream."