By David Carrillo Peñaloza
11:56 PM PDT, June 22, 2013
NEWPORT BEACH — Even the last player selected in the NFL Draft has an entourage.
Justice Cunningham capped a long Friday by checking out the bar scene in Newport Beach. He ran with a crew of almost two dozen, all there to support a rookie with the nickname "Mr. Irrelevant."
Anyone who goes dead last in anything can be a bartender's best friend, just check his tab after the last call.
The late night bar hopping turned out to be one event Meredith Cagle missed. Since Cunningham landed at John Wayne Airport on Wednesday night, she has followed him around. She learned in December, when she took over as the executive director of Irrelevant Week, that it's part of the job.
"It's been tiring, but really, really fun," said Cagle, who organized the events for Cunningham, the 254th pick of the Indianapolis Colts.
Cagle was smart to skip the bars on Friday night.
On Saturday, Cagle had to be up early and so did Cunningham. She planned a surfing lesson in the morning for Cunningham.
Cunningham is a 6-foot-3, 258-pound tight end who didn't catch many balls at the University of South Carolina. Now, he was supposed to catch waves, after partying all night.
"I had never done it before. It is hard," said Cunningham, who managed to stay upright. "[Surfing] reminded me of the balance board I work out on when I do some drills."
The real drills for Cunningham will come after he leaves Newport Beach on Saturday. He's bound for Aurora, Ohio, site of the NFL Rookie Symposium, where he will listen to former and current players talk about life in the NFL.
Cunningham is one of 254 players expected to attend the four-day symposium, which starts Sunday for AFC rookies. He said he's looking forward to it, despite having to take a red-eye flight out of Los Angeles International Airport to get there.
"He flies out at 11:58 p.m.," Cagle said. "They told us he just needed to be there ready right about 11. He will be cutting it right down to the wire, but we're confident that he will make it there. He might be tired."
Cunningham isn't worried about any lack of rest, saying, "I'll get my sleep on the plane." Plus, he's 22, full of energy.
During his stay in town, Cunningham was busy. He said he enjoyed himself during his first trip to Southern California. Three people close to him, his mother, Marvella Saint Julien, his 7-year-old sister, Niella, and his childhood friend, Marcus Miller, came along for the ride that celebrates the underdog.
They visited Disneyland on Friday morning, and then went to a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game later that night. Without even knowing, Cunningham, who's from Pageland, S.C., followed a tradition of Southern California fans.
"I left at the end of the seventh," said Cunningham, who backed the home team, wearing an Angels jersey and even helping the grounds crew drag the infield after the third inning. "They was coming back [against the Pittsburgh Pirates]. They were rallying."
The Angels wound up losing, 5-2, but the result didn't affect the rest of Cunningham's night. He was on his way to experiencing Newport Beach's nightlife with supporters.
Many of those who partied with Cunningham on Friday night made it to his Saturday afternoon party at the Newport Beach Civic Center. They played bocce with Special Olympics Southern California athletes, the charity Irrelevant Week raised money for this year.
When the games ended, Cunningham signed autographs and then took a seat. Those same fans showered him with gifts.
"I didn't think it was going to be anything like this," said Cunningham, who left it up to his entourage to take care of the gifts and make sure they safely reach his mother's house in South Carolina.
Mr. Irrelevant had a sailing trip to get to before his time ran out in paradise.