At the end of four years, a college football player, if he’s lucky, has an opportunity to showcase his skills to NFL scouts, head coaches or player personnel. If invited, the most prestigious opportunity comes in form of the official NFL Combine. Otherwise, most universities hold their own scouting event, inviting recent graduates to participate in their own version of a combine while opening their doors to NFL personnel.
Arizona football will do just that during the official University of Arizona Pro Day on Thurs, March 6. Going above and beyond their competitors, Arizona provides scouts an unparalleled experience while holding their own combine, which will include nearly every member of the 2013 graduating class.
Director of On-Campus Recruiting and Player Personnel Matt Dudek, with the help of his staff, plan out pro day long before the event occurs. Throughout the year, the coaching and operations staff ensures scouts an opportunity to watch players, speak with coaches and have a home-away-from-home experience.
Priding itself in its efforts to welcome scouts to Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, the program offers scouts the ability to gather character information, statistics, game film and everything in between year-round leading up to Pro Day.
“We brought it to another level,” Dudek said. “We are open to the scouts. If they want to come watch film or want to watch an opponent's film but like it here because it’s comfortable and they know we're going to give them straight answers and know the film is going to be available, we are going to get more scouts to come through just because of how this staff is. It's open, it's home, it's family oriented. We're really open to the scouts. We want this to be an NFL haven.”
With pro day fast approaching, many may not know the preparation that it takes from both the staff and athletes.
“They watch film, talk to coaches, do individual interviews with the guys, Coach Rodriguez talks to them about his thoughts on each guy and the plan for the day,” Dudek said. “We go in the weight room and do height and weight, broad and vertical jump, and bench press. They go on the field, run 40s, do the pro shuttle and then they do individual workouts. Essentially, we put our own Arizona combine.”
While the staff works with the pro day schedules of surrounding universities for the convenience of the scouts, athletes begin their preparation immediately following the end of the season.
Preparation comes in different forms for different athletes. Some stay in Tucson and use the resources offered by the program such as continued help from the strength and conditioning staff.
“Everyone does it a little bit different,” Dudek said. “You have the Ka'Deem Careys, Marquis Flowers and Shaq Richardsons of the world where they go away and train with professional trainers, for speed training, agility, position specific drills. Then, you have another group of guys that stay at Arizona. Our strength staff knows their strengths and weaknesses already so there is no transitional period.”
The ability to stay at Arizona to train for pro day is a valuable opportunity that the athletes are offered at the conclusion of their playing time.
“That’s one of the biggest benefits,” Associate Athletic Director of Strength and Conditioning Chris Allen said. “Working with someone that knows their strengths and weaknesses. They don’t have to pay to train. It’s a familiar surrounding. Most are still in school and can finish their degrees. It helps financially all while getting the same level of training.”
Like training elsewhere, the Arizona strength and conditioning staff spends their available time working with athletes preparing them for each of the events that will be expected of them on pro day. From working on footwork to increasing speed in the 40-yard dash, Allen credits his staff for making the time to help athletes that chose to train at Arizona.
Others, like defensive lineman Tevin Hood, head out of state to prepare with special training staffs. Hood began training in Carlsbad, Calif. immediately following the AdvoCare V100 bowl game win.
“I workout six days a week,” Hood said. “They’ve helped me to prepare from a weight standpoint and speed. I also go through physical training. It’s all about doing as much as one can do to prepare for such an important time in one’s life.”
Wanting to prove some wrong and wanting to show those who have supported him that it was not for nothing, Hood understands the opportunity presented to him.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Hood said. “It’s a chance that isn’t given to many. It definitely puts into perspective that you have to really work to make it happen. I think to myself ‘This is what you’ve always wanted. This is your shot.’ It’s a blessing.”
With the opportunity at hand, athletes will return in hopes of showing NFL personnel that they are ready for the next level. For some, that means showing what can’t be seen on game film and for others it is making a final statement to prove themselves.
“The biggest thing is the game film,” Dudek said. “Everyone makes a big deal about these combines and pro days. They are very important but what they do is solidify and put numbers that are tangible on film. If your game film is good, you're going to be a good player and likely going to be drafted. If you game film is bad, then you're likely not to be drafted. With a combine, they put a number on something that is subjective. You can help yourself drastically. I think it gives a guy a chance.”
As Arizona football prepares to hosts its 2014 pro day, the chance to turn the program into a haven for NFL prospects brings excitement to the staff just as much as it does for the athletes that will await their name to be called.
“You don't see it pro day but you see the first step of it,” Dudek said. “If you see guys come back and they're a little faster or stronger and you see the next 70 days which is about when the draft is and you see them get their name called, that's where it all comes full circle. There are only one percent of college football players that get to say that.”
“That's the most rewarding and exciting part about this process,” Dudek added. “Every college football players dream is to play in the NFL. It's one of those things that it’s the end goal. It's the top of the pyramid. They're getting their last one shot at that pyramid.”