Colby Sorsdal ’22 had dreamed about this moment all his life. Still, he wasn’t prepared for just how indescribable the experience has been.
A consensus All-American offensive lineman at William & Mary, Sorsdal surprised many analysts as a fifth-round pick (No. 152 overall) by the Detroit Lions in the 2023 NFL Draft. He will join a franchise that after a 1-6 start won eight of its last 10 games last season.
“Everything from getting the call to seeing my name on TV to watching my highlights and seeing William & Mary on the NFL Network and ESPN, it’s been a dream come true,” Sorsdal said. “I had always pictured what this moment was going to look like, but I couldn’t have predicted this.
“You couldn’t write a better story. I can’t describe it. I’m just so happy to be alive.”
Sorsdal received a call from Lions general manager Brad Holmes around 1 p.m. Saturday as the fifth round was underway. Since Detroit hadn’t shown a particularly high level of pre-draft interest, Sorsdal wasn’t expecting it.
But why else, he reasoned, would the Lions GM be calling?
“He was like, ‘Hey, man, how’s it going? This is Brad Holmes, GM with the Detroit Lions,'” Sorsdal said. “I kind of froze a little bit. I was like, ‘What’s going on, Brad?'”
Sorsdal, whose 46 starts at W&M are a program record for an offensive lineman, watched the draft at his parents’ house in Dallas. Former teammates Marcus Cromwell and Kevin Jarrell flew down to join him.
Sorsdal is the first Tribe player to be drafted since 2016, when the Chicago Bears selected safety DeAndre Houston-Carson in the sixth round. The last W&M alumnus to be taken earlier in the draft was cornerback B.W. Webb, a fourth-round pick (114th overall) by the Dallas Cowboys in 2013.
Sorsdal was the second of 10 players selected from the Championship Subdivision in the three-day, seven-round draft.
“I’ve seen his development, and I’ve seen him play against really good players,” W&M Coach Mike London said. “Shoot, I’ve seen him practice against really good players — (former Tribe defensive lineman) Bill Murray, (defensive end) Nate Lynn and (linebacker) John Pius.
“He has all the requisites of being a good offensive lineman. He’s flexible and he has a great punch when it comes to pass protection.”
A starter from his first game as a true freshman in 2018, Sorsdal played for three offensive line coaches — Bob Solderitch for one season, Gordon Sammis for three (counting the COVID-abbreviated spring of ’21) and Mario Acitelli last fall.
Acitelli was the Tribe’s special teams coordinator in Sorsdal’s freshman year. He remembers Sorsdal’s second career start, which came at Virginia Tech in front of 65,000-plus fans. He gave up a sack on the third play from scrimmage.
“He didn’t come off the snap count, and the quarterback was absolutely blown up,” Acitelli said. “That could have been a real confidence shaker, to say the least. But how far he’s come since then, that’s been incredible.
“I think Detroit really did their homework on him as a person, as a competitor and as a teammate. I know Colby is fired up, and our whole staff is. It’s awesome, and for him to go as high as he did speaks to the amount of effort he put in to get to where he is.”
Twenty-three teams (including Detroit) had at least one representative at W&M’s Pro Day on March 23. London said he heard a similar refrain after each met with Sorsdal.
“They got him on the board and said, ‘Tell me about this play and how you run this,'” he said. “Every one of them came out saying, ‘I’ll tell you what, this kid’s got a high IQ for football, the details of what it takes, and what’s called for at a particular time.'”
At William & Mary, Sorsdal played almost exclusively at right tackle. But he worked at guard at the East-West Shrine Bowl and snapped at Pro Day. He is confident that he can play either of the five spots on the line.
Sorsdal is excited about joining the Lions, who have one of the more highly regarded offensive lines in the NFL.
“They’ve got Penei Sewell, Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker … I mean, Pro Bowl guys,” he said. “I’m walking into an organization that has it going on, especially in the O-line room. I’m just excited to be a part of it and to call myself a Detroit Lion.”
Mini-camp begins May 12. Sorsdal can’t wait — once he comes down from the last few days.
“From Saturday when I got the call to now, it’s been ‘what the heck just happened?'” he said. “All the Detroit fans are reaching out on Instagram and Twitter, my family and friends are texting me, and I’m like, ‘Dude, this is crazy.’
“This is what I’ve always dreamed about, and now it’s time to get to work. It’s all football from here on out. I’m excited to get in there, learn the playbook, meet my teammates and be in Michigan.”