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Falcons draft Central's Massaquoi

Central Gwinnett graduate Jonathan Massaquoi had to start his college career far from home, but he found his way back in a big way Saturday afternoon.

The hometown Atlanta Falcons selected the defensive end in the fifth round of the NFL Draft with the 164th overall pick, assuring that the 6-foot-2, 264-pounder will begin his NFL dreams close to where he played his high school football.

“I shed a few tears, dropped to my knees and prayed,” Massaquoi said of his reaction after the Falcons’ phone call. “After that, I was just excited and ready to to go work. ... Getting drafted itself is a blessing and an honor. Only a select few are drafted. And it’s been my childhood dream since I was a little kid playing Pop Warner for the Black Knights to play for the Falcons. Once I knew the NFL was a possibility, I said, ‘Hey, I want to be a Falcon.’”

Massaquoi began his college career at Butler County Community College (Kans.), where he starred before signing with Troy. He became a disruptive force at Troy, tallying 19 1/2 career sacks and starting 25 games in two seasons. He had 31 tackles for losses and 128 total tackles at Troy, earning first-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors twice.

The 24-year-old, who graduated before declaring for the draft with one year of eligibility left in college, is considered an above average prospect. His long arms (34 1/8 inches) were intriguing to NFL scouts. He was projected as high as the second round in some mock drafts.

“(The Falcons) stole a pick, that’s just my opinion,” Massaquoi said. “A lot of people said second round, third round, fourth round. After I didn’t get picked the second day, I knew I had something to prove to the team that picks me up. I’m going to use (not being drafted higher) as a little chip on my shoulder to fuel my fire.”

Massaqoui, a cousin of former Georgia and current Cleveland Browns wideout Mohamed Massaquoi, has made a physical transformation in college since playing linebacker at Central.

“I’m about 50 to 60 pounds heavier than high school,” Massaquoi said.

With the Falcons, Massaquoi will join a defensive end rotation that includes starters John Abraham and Ray Edwards along with reserves Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury. Atlanta also has a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan.

Atlanta already has another Gwinnett grad on the roster — tight end Michael Palmer, a Parkview grad.

“I love to be here and be around John Abraham and a group of veterans like that, but also be part of a young team,” Massaquoi said. “I just want to bring a young, ambitious spirit, learn what I can and hopefully make some plays for them.”