Matt Judon didn't dream of an NFL career as a kid; he just started playing football because his older brother did. But in his last high school game, Judon scored all his team's points on defense in a 10-6 win.
Still, Division 1 schools weren't interested so he ended up at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where he became one of the elite pass rushers in college football and in his last year led the nation in sacks with 21.5.
Invited to the NFL Draft Combine in 2016, fan sites and combine message boards were quick to criticize his lack of size and small-school background.
He was called a "small-school wonder." Other posts said he was very "raw from a technical standpoint."
But on Day 3 of the 2016 NFL Draft, as Judon watched other players get drafted, he had a feeling that, despite the critics, he might get a call.
His phone suddenly rang, and he warned the friends and family members around him at his high school coach's house in West Bloomfield, Mich., to be quiet. Ozzie Newsome, the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, was on the line.
"Is there anybody around you?" Newsome asked.
"Yeah, yeah they're all being quiet in the back," Judon replied.
"Well, you can tell them to start screaming because you're about to be a Baltimore Raven."
It had been a long journey to the NFL. Judon battled ACL and MCL injuries along with the skepticism from NFL scouts who questioned his size.
He took advantage of his first year in the league to soak up information from veterans in the locker room like Steve Smith, Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs and put together what he called a "C+" rookie season. He picked up on the differences from college. The game was faster. The language was different.
Judon comes from a family of six brothers and three sisters. Both his mother and stepfather worked at General Motors. All the boys played sports, which was a staple in his family.
Still, Judon never saw his future as playing in the NFL. Ironically, he didn't like to play defense on his youth football team because he didn't like tackling people. He looked at the game as "something to do" because his older brother, Michael, played.
By the time he went to high school, football was his thing. He always played, but his coaches wanted to try new players in his position -- and that uncertainty kept him motivated.
One of the players who took his spot was former NBA player Larry Johnson's son because the younger Johnson was bigger. Like his dad, Larry Jr. also played basketball, but that athleticism didn't translate to the football field so Judon got his position back.
"In high school on the field [Matt] was a hard worker," Vince Boddy, a former high school teammate, said. "He was always going to run somebody down if no one else would, and he was very passionate about the game and wasn't afraid to be vocal."
In his last high school game, Judon played defense yet scored all his team's points, giving them a 10-6 win. He picked up a fumble and scored, had a safety and scored two points on a muffed field goal.
Even with his high school dominance, he didn't receive a single Division One scholarship offer.
"I always heard about the D-I stuff, but no D-I teams were hitting me up." Judon said, "I didn't do an official D-I visit, where they fly you and your parents out or nothing like that."
He thought maybe he was too small or too skinny for D-I schools, or maybe it was his grades.
His choices were Grand Valley State University or Wayne State University, both in Michigan. He ended at GV largely because it wasn't a big city; he felt he could stay out of trouble and focus on his goals in the sleepy town of Allendale.
He was a redshirt in his first year at GV. Because of his smaller frame, he struggled with the program's Olympic lifting system. But he was confident he could still compete on the field.
During his sophomore year at GV, what he thought was a hyperextension of his knee turned out to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament. It was a non-contact injury; his foot got caught in the turf. When he hobbled back to the sideline, he got the news from the trainers.
He went right into rehab and didn't stop until he got back to 100 percent the next year. Judon said that injury made him a better player.
"After that injury, I became a student of the game," Judon said. "When I was watching film, I wasn't just watching me, I was watching the whole game."
Then came the invitation to the NFL Draft Combine. He was excited to have his name in the paper and to have people know who he was. But the doubters were out there.
On fan sites and Combine message boards, "experts" wondered whether he could compete at the next level because of his lack of size and the fact that he was from a small school.
But he dispelled doubts by having a great combine. He ran 4.73 seconds in the 40-yard dash, bench-pressed 225 pounds 30 times and had a 35-inch vertical jump.
Being drafted in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens, a team known for its tenacious defense, made Judon even more determined.
"You always hear about the Ravens defense, just for them to think I can contribute to their defense is a huge honor," Judon said.
In Judon's first year in the NFL, he racked up 27 tackles, four sacks and two pass deflections, not bad for the limited role he played on the team. He's looking to add a few things to his game, but his goals are still the same.
"My motivation is me wanting to be the best." he said. "I just always wanted to be the best at what I do."