Demarcus Lawrence will be surrounded by about 75 friends and family members at a party in Las Vegas when his name is called in the NFL Draft.
The crowd will include his parents and girlfriend, who is due to deliver their baby boy later this month.
But none of them is the first person Lawrence plans to locate when he is drafted. That honor belongs to nephew Deonta Gaines, 16.
"He was like my little brother," Lawrence said. "That's the first person I'm going to find and let him know anything is possible. He's going to have to chase his dreams and never give up. If one person says you're not good enough, keep working until you know you're good enough."
Lawrence has chased his NFL dream since he was 7 a journey that could have been derailed in high school, when he learned he was not academically eligible to play college football. He left Aiken, S.C., for Butler Community College in Kansas, where he spent two years getting his academics into shape and played one season of football. He moved even farther west after that for a memorable, two-year stay at Boise State.
By week's end, he'll have an NFL job.
And by summer's end, he expects to have his communications degree.
"I've shared a lot (with NFL personnel) about how much 'Tank' has grown in his two years at Boise State," said Andy Avalos, the Broncos' defensive line coach the past two years and now the linebackers coach. "What I'm most proud of it's always awesome to have a football player of his caliber on your side, with his love and passion for the game is how much he's grown as a person, especially down the stretch last year, taking care of his business off the field."
Lawrence was among the most productive Boise State football players ever. In two seasons on the roster, he recorded 20 sacks (third-most in the school's FBS era) and 34 tackles for loss (fifth-most in the FBS era) while playing just 23 games.
He also found the coaches' doghouse. He served three one-game suspensions for unspecified violations of team rules.
NFL teams, desperate for dynamic pass rushers but more character-conscious than ever, have assessed the way Lawrence moves and quizzed him about his commitment in private meetings.
He visited a dozen teams and worked out for the Panthers, Buccaneers, Patriots and Cowboys.
"Some teams were a little concerned about my situation at Boise, but at the end of the day I think I've let them know I've grown from the things I did and I'm moving on and it's all about NFL football," Lawrence said. "I'm not the same college boy I used to be two years ago."
Perhaps the bigger issue that will affect where Lawrence lands in the draft is his status as a "tweener." He's 6-foot-3, 251 pounds a little small for a defensive end. Others consider him an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, but Lawrence has little experience dropping into pass coverage.
"I don't feel like it's any difference," Lawrence said. "Either they want me to stand up and rush the passer or they want me to put my hand down and rush the passer. Either way, I've got to get to the quarterback."
That is Lawrence's specialty. His two-year sack total was better than the best two-year stretches by first-round pick Shea McClellin (16.5), third-round pick Tyrone Crawford (13.5) and free-agent signee Ryan Winterswyk (13.5), the Broncos' other top recent pass rushers.
"(Lawrence) has got long arms, he's got a great feel for leverage and he's got good change of direction," Avalos said. "And, as most D-ends do, he loves to pass rush. He worked tremendously hard on that stuff. He's got a lot of natural ability. When you combine that natural ability with a love of the game and ambition and self-motivation to get better, that's when you get a productive player a really productive player in his case.
"He wants to be an elite football player."
Lawrence could have returned for one more season at Boise State, where Avalos predicts he would have been a "pretty dominant force" in 2014. But the coach was not surprised that Lawrence decided to leave once he received his NFL evaluation.
The report predicted that Lawrence would land in the first through third rounds.
"He's worked extremely hard to be in the position he's in right now," Avalos said, "and we're proud of him for that."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398,Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat