Once college football is over, the dream for gridiron athletes becomes reaching the next level.
But to play in the NFL, you have to make a team — and that means catching someone's eye.
Friday's BYU Pro Day was one of the opportunities former Cougars had to be able to do just that as they show off their athleticism.
“I felt like I did good today,” ex-BYU record-breaking wide receiver Cody Hoffman said. “I felt like I did a lot better than at the combine, so that’s all I can really ask for.”
Hoffman was one of 10 former Cougars who performed in front of representatives from 21 different NFL teams. Linebacker Uani ‘Unga, who is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in the bowl game, didn’t participate but was in attendance to talk to scouts.
From a scout’s perspective, these type of events give players a chance to display their athletic abilities.
“Obviously they aren’t doing anything football-wise, so you look more at their movement skills and ball skills that you don’t always see,” said Rick Reiprish, a scout for the New Orleans Saints. “You don’t see secondary guys playing the ball a lot in the air because they don’t get the opportunity. It’s all more athletic stuff than football.”
There are really two parts to the Pro Day: The measurables and the skill work.
It's the standard drills that most people pay attention to, with the 40-yard dash being the most recognized. Bench press, vertical, shuttle drills and other basic abilities are also tallied so NFL scouts have some baselines to work with.
Hoffman said he did better than he did at the combine in both his vertical and his broad jump. It had a been an emphasis and he was happier getting up to 31 inches in the vertical.
On the other hand, there are areas guys would’ve preferred to do a little better, as linebacker Spencer Hadley referenced.
“Last week I benched the 225-pound weight 28 times and today I only did 24,” he said. “That stuff happens and you have to forget about it and move on to the next drill.”
Many of the best prospects, however, focus on doing skill work with the scouts and representatives of different teams. Throwing, catching, defending, route running and other skills are tested by guys who study these things for a living.
“I came back to do the drills and I felt like I was pretty crisp in them,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “I felt like I needed to get in elevation shape but staying in shape out in California was a good thing.”
In terms of value, it’s not clear how high either one sits and whether Pro Day can dramatically change a guy's draft stock — but if you want to reach the big time, you better be able to jump through the hoops.
Reiprish talked about the impact these things have on a player's future and he said that sometimes guys make jumps but pointed out that these drills aren't football.
“It’s hard to make a big jump because they aren’t doing football stuff,” he said. “It’s almost like when you are at the combine. You go out there and these guys run in shorts and t-shirts, and people are falling in love with people. But they’re not really playing football. They are athletic events. Some people can move up because they do work out really well and they run faster, but you still have to play the game to be graded the way we grade them.”
Spencer Hadley looked strong, having bounced back from his knee injury last year. Marcus Mathews heard that he ran a 4.48 in the 40, which is a nice time.
Reiprish said he knows what type of athletes he’ll find when he visits Provo.
“You see players who are coached well, who are in pretty good shape and who work out hard,” he said. “It’s just another look from what we’d seen during the year in film. It’s always a good visit and it’s always a good workout here.”
Most of the ex-Cougars said they felt pleased with their performances overall, plus they had a great time getting back together with their former teammates.
“It’s always good to see these guys again,” Hadley said. “I know it’s a slogan on a shirt, but it really sinks in when we practiced the way that we did, when we work the way that we did. these guys are brothers. I hadn’t seen Daniel (Sorensen) or Kyle (Van Noy) or JD (Falslev) for a long time, so it was great to see them. We’re all cheering each other on and I think it’s obvious we care about each other’s success.”
Van Noy added: “I enjoyed the environment, being out with people you trained with for the last four years here. It was fun.”
The next couple of months are about staying in shape, hoping to set up workouts with NFL teams and then wait for the opportunity to come around draft day.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.