So there I was, laid out across a weightlifting bench on a stage inside of the Indiana Convention Center. A lively crowd comprised of players, scouts, and NFL football fans, cheered me on as I started my 225-pound bench press test. After 14 reps I paused to gather myself and I looked up and saw the arena lights bearing down on me. I said to myself “Damn, I’m really at the combine right now,” before I cranked out some more reps and exited the stage. It was that moment when I finally felt the magnitude of the situation.
The bench press test takes place one day prior to the workouts that everybody sees on TV. When most people think of the NFL Scouting Combine, the televised workouts come to mind, but there is actually so much more to it.
The bench press was Saturday, but myself and the other linebackers and defensive linemen had been in Indianapolis since Wednesday afternoon. As soon as I set foot in the hotel, the process began. It started that night with several hours of psychological testing. It continued for the next few days with hours of medical exams paired with personality and intelligence tests. Let’s not forget the most important tests: verbal interviews with NFL coaches.
This was, more or less, the schedule all day every day up until the bench press. During these days, you are locked in and engaged with every person you meet and every test you take. There isn’t really much time to soak in the moment. You wake up each day with a full schedule of appointments until finally the day comes when you get to showcase your talents to the whole world.
But before that day, you get asked about just about everything that has ever happened in your life. Did you sprain your ankle in seventh grade? Skip a class in college? Miss your program’s conditioning test one year? Coaches, scouts, and doctors will ask you these things, but they probably already know the answers and just want to hear what you have to say about them. Doctors may ask you to get an x-ray on that ankle just to be safe. Some guys, normally those projected in the early rounds, have to go to a formal interview with a team’s entire staff. These are some of the precautions teams take to ensure that they are drafting or signing the right guy next month.
Finally, Sunday came and it was time to perform in front of all the scouts. My roommate Kenny Young, a linebacker from UCLA, and I were up well before our alarms in anticipation of the day’s events. This was one of those days we had dreamt about since childhood. I went downstairs, ate breakfast, and met up with my best friend from my training facility, Oren Burks, a linebacker from Vanderbilt. We had been training together at CalStrength for a long time and there we were, inside Lucas Oil Stadium, warming up for the 40-yard dash.
They don’t tell any of us our times on the field so we check our cell phones for notifications from our friends and families. Oren went first and I watched him run what seemed to be a good time. A few minutes later I ran and I felt like I performed well, but I wasn’t really sure. Oren came running up to me and notified me that we had both met our training goals of running in the 4.5-second range.
For a brief moment we celebrated, but then we locked back in and continued the day’s drills. Everything else was kind of a blur. The larger than usual group of 42 linebackers split up to perform the rest of the drills and time flew by. At the end of the combine I was a top performer in a number of drills, as were my Stanford teammates (Dalton Schultz, Harrison Philips, Quenton Meeks, and Justin Reid) and my CalStrength teammates ( Zaycoven Henderson, Oren Burks, Ade Aruna, and Tyrell Crosby).
In all, the combine was a great experience and I’m honored to have been a participant. I was able to showcase my athleticism on the field and my knowledge of the game during my interviews. I had a chance to reconnect with a lot of players I met during the college recruiting process, as well as many old adversaries from college and high school football.
Probably the coolest encounter was getting to see my high school quarterback, Riley Ferguson from Memphis, for the first time in years. In high school, we won three state championships in football and three conference championships in basketball. Now we are living out the scenarios we first brought up while talking together in our high school cafeteria.
I have completed one step on this long journey that awaits me. The next challenge s Pro Day at Stanford, when all 32 teams come to evaluate our program’s NFL talent. I can’t wait.