KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Bryce Young had been catching grief from Alabama teammate Will Anderson Jr. all morning after dragging a blanket out of his hotel room, wrapping up in it and trying to fight off a brisk wind as the sun rose over Union Station.
“You can call me soft. Call me whatever you like,” Young said Wednesday. “I'm cold.”
It doesn't figure to be a whole lot warmer Thursday night, when the century-old train depot near downtown Kansas City serves as the backdrop for the NFL draft. Before it sits the largest stage complex the league has ever built for its second-biggest event behind the Super Bowl, serving as the anchor for a three-day spectacle expected to draw more than 100,000 people.
Young won't have to sit in the elements long, though. The Crimson Tide quarterback, who won the Heisman Trophy two years ago, is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick when the Carolina Panthers are the first team on the clock.
“It's crazy to be here right now,” Young told The Associated Press, about 24 hours before the draft was set to begin. "My earliest memory of the draft is just probably having it on TV at a young age, you know? Just being a sports household. Always on. Always watching it, always paying attention to it. And now to be able to track these players and say, ‘Oh, I remember that draft, and now he’s here and doing this' — you know, you start to see the progression.
“And more recently,” Young said, “when I've been able to watch the draft, it's been surreal knowing people that have gone that I worked out with, or I shared a day with. I mean, now actually taking part in it, it's a blessing.”
Anderson, one of the best pass rushers available, also expects to be among the first few picks Thursday night.
“I mean, at the end of the day, I think the biggest thing is as long as you get drafted. That's how I kind of think of it," he said. “It doesn't matter where you land. Obviously just matters that you get drafted."
The actual draft is only part of the three-day football festival.
Up the hill from Union Station, where the Kansas City Chiefs celebrated their third Super Bowl triumph in February, sits the National World War I Museum and Memorial. The expansive south grass area has transformed into the NFL Draft Experience, where fans can see every edition of the Super Bowl ring, the Lombardi Trophy and catch photos and autographs.
At the conclusion of the first round Thursday night, the Grammy-nominated rock band Fall Out Boy will take the stage for a concert. Motley Crue and Thundercat are scheduled to perform on subsequent nights.
On Friday night, just across the state line in Bonner Springs, Kansas, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is hosting his own music festival at the Azura Amphitheater. Machine Gun Kelly, Loud Luxury, Rick Ross and Kansas City hip-hop icon Tech N9ne will perform, and food will be provided by some of the best barbecue joints in town.
Speaking of 'cue, former Chiefs offensive tackle-turned-grillmaster Mitchell Schwartz will be hosting the KC Smoke Show on the north lawn of the museum on Saturday. Along with the official competition, some of the best pitmasters from Kansas City and around the country will serve up samples for fans attending the final day of the draft.
“It's absolutely amazing from where the draft has gone to now traveling all over the country and allowing cities to put on a great performance,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “I think it's cool because not every city can have a Super Bowl, just because of how big that is, but they can have a part of his NFL experience with different things.”
Asked whether he would have gone as a kid, Veach replied: “Absolutely. I would have been there all three days.”
Alas, Veach won't be there this year. He'll be ensconced alongside Andy Reid at the Chiefs' facility near Arrowhead Stadium, about a 15-minute drive east of the downtown area, where they are scheduled to pick 31st overall Thursday night.
“I'm excited for the city,” Reid said. “Obviously all these people that are coming in for this are excited; they're excited to be in Kansas City. You better get the barbecue fired up and ready to go because we'll have a lot of folks here.”
Young and Anderson had yet to partake in Kansas City's famous barbecue Wednesday, though both promised it was still on their agenda before the draft. Also on the agenda was an afternoon trip to Central Middle and High School, where they were to join other draft prospects in a clinic and working on a variety of community service projects.
“It's crazy, for sure, just how much our lives are going to change, you know?” said Young, who glanced over to see — somewhat incredulously — that Anderson was now the one wrapped up in a blanket to fight off the morning chill.
“In 48 hours, we'll all be going our separate ways,” Young said. “Hopefully, you know, mentally you've prepared yourself for the process, and you've built toward it, and you're ready. I'm excited for it to be here, for sure.”