It’s a morning unlike most mornings. You wake up with a little extra spring in your step. Maybe a few nerves, as well.
Then you get dressed, look in the mirror and give yourself one last pep talk before you head out the door. Your job interview awaits – your dream job -- and you’re determined to make a good impression, to show this potential employer that you have what it takes to work, hustle and ultimately succeed in their line of business.
Wednesday was that morning for 15 young men at the University of Miami, although the circumstances were slightly different than what the rest of us might remember from our initial job hunts.
No suits, briefcases or boardrooms; instead there were cleats, cones and stopwatches. It was Pro Day in Coral Gables, the annual influx of NFL executives, coaches and scouts to observe draft-eligible Hurricanes in the familiar confines of the legendary Greentree Practice Fields.
All 32 NFL teams were on hand to watch the Hurricanes run through a series of interviews, tests and drills.
Here’s what Pro Day looked like for the Hurricanes on Wednesday.
Head coach Mark Richt arrives and starts off the morning with an appearance on WQAM’s The Joe Rose Show, which is broadcasting outside Miami’s Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence as the parade of NFL scouts start to check in. Rose asks Richt about spring ball, recruiting and then jumps into questions about the Pro Day participants.
“We had a nice meal yesterday for all of them,” Richt says. “We talked a little bit about what the day is going to be like, and we just told them that we love them and we look forward to seeing them do their thing today.”
As Richt concludes the interview, defensive back Adrian Colbert walks by and Richt wishes him good luck.
The pace starts to pick up at the check-in table in the Schwartz Center lobby, where Football Operations Assistant Justin Wells and Assistant Director of Operations/Recruiting Relations Brooke Wilson are issuing credentials to all of the NFL guests.
Joel Rodriguez, Miami’s Director of Player Development, is also there to greet everybody. Rodriguez oversees logistics and operations for Miami’s Pro Day, and also serves as the pro liaison.
Rodriguez is also a former Hurricanes offensive lineman and remembers his own Pro Day back in 2005 well.
“I just remember the nerves,” Rodriguez said. “It’s different than a game because with a game you know what you’re walking into. On Pro Day you’re not exactly sure exactly what’s going to happen, who’s going to be there, who’s going to work you out.
“Once it’s over, it’s like a 10,000-pound gorilla off your shoulders.”
Once the scouts and coaches check in, they head upstairs to the second floor to meet the players, who have gathered to get measured -- height, weight, hand size and wing span. Some teams have also scheduled meetings with individual players.
Rodriguez kicks off the welcome session in the auditorium before handing the mic over to Demetreus Darden and Vinny Scavo. Darden, Miami’s Assistant AD/Academics and Director of Football Academics, discusses each player’s academic standing. Scavo, the Hurricanes’ Associate AD/Athletic Training, goes over any injuries. Richt wraps up the session with some brief remarks and thanks everybody for coming on campus.
Everybody ventures downstairs to the Squillante Strength & Conditioning Center for physical testing. Each player participates in the bench press, vertical jump and broad jump.
First up is the vertical jump, where fullback Marquez Williams receives the loudest ovation from his teammates. Current Miami players come into the weight room for the bench press, cheering loudly for their former teammates. Williams again impresses on the bench.
The Hurricanes then head outside to the practice fields for drills. The players start with the 40-yard dash, running two heats (one north, one south) as a chorus of stopwatches click away at the start and finish.
Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Craig Kuligkowski chats with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for several minutes. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and safeties coach Ephraim Banda soon join them. Meanwhile, two UM Vinnys – Scavo and former Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde – also catch up.
The players next hit the shuttle and cone drills before moving to position group drills. First up are the tight ends and all eyes are on David Njoku, projected by many draft analysts as a first-round pick, and his quarterback, Brad Kaaya, who became Miami’s all-time leader in passing yards this past season.
Kaaya scripts 70 throws and looks sharp. Family, friends, teammates and Hurricane legends who have gone on to become NFL stars cheer on as he continually hits Njoku, Stacy Coley, Standish Dobard, Joseph Yearby, Malcolm Lewis and Williams all in stride.
In fact, Pro Day served as a U Family reunion of sorts. In addition to Testaverde, attendees included Jon Beason, Duke Johnson, Artie Burns, Deon Bush, Sean Spence, Stephen Morris, Travis Benjamin, Tracy Howard, Brandon Harris, Jon Feliciano, Rashawn Scott, and Donnell Bennett.
The defensive backs group is another heavily sought after workout, as Hurricane standouts Corn Elder, Rayshawn Jenkins, Jamal Carter and Adrian Colbert put their skills on display looking to prove that they are the next great DBs out of a school that has produced so many superstars at the position.
All-ACC players Danny Isidora and Justin Vogel also had opportunities to shine before NFL brass, with Isidora showing the strength and footwork that made him one of the top guards in the country and Vogel flashing the powerful and accurate right leg that earned him so many punting accolades in his career.
After the position drills are finished, Richt talks to NFL Network and the local media before checking out some individual workouts that teams request with certain players. The field isn’t cleared until well after 2 p.m.
It’s back to work for Richt and his staff, back to class for the current Hurricanes and back on the road for the NFL folks. And the 15 Pro Day participants presumably head back home for a well-deserved rest. They’re one giant step closer to fulfilling that dream of playing football for a living, but the grind will continue until draft weekend.