As Pro Days go for college football programs, the Wake Forest Pro Day has entered into a newer, bigger arena. Wednesday all 32 NFL teams were represented, with 40 personnel members in all, checking out the work of 12 Demon Deacon players ahead of the April draft.
With everyone working out in front of the scouts and the media inside the McCreary Field House, there was abundantly more activity than in recent years. Some were trying to solidify what already appears to be a future in the NFL. Others were trying to get that last look in hopes of some individual team workouts.
Coming A Long Way
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson remembered that it was not that many years ago that the size and scope of Pro Day wasn’t much to mention. “I think we’ve come a long way,” he told reporters at the event. “I think in 2014, we might have had four or five scouts here and it was outside on an old turf. And it was pouring freezing rain.” Clawson said the program did not have a lot of players drawing the interest of NFL teams. The dozen on display Wednesday signifies a turning of the corner at least for the immediate future.
Clawson called the change in the tides, “Momentum.” He said, “It either goes up or down. Right now, we have it. And this is just another example of what can happen if you come to Wake Forest.”
Tom Adds To The Resume
One of the more anticipated workouts was that of tackle Zach Tom. He did the full set of workouts at the Combine in Indianapolis last month. So he did not have to do things like the broad jump or the vertical jump again. Tom did do the bench press with an increase of five reps up to 25. He also tipped the scales at 307 pounds. He put on about 12 pounds since the end of the Wake Forest season, and about four pounds since the Combine. The additional weight in strength and body mass makes him a more appealing offensive line prospect at the next level.
Asked about his process for adding the weight, Tom said, “eating.” He has been conditioning at the well-known Exos training facility in Pensacola, Florida. Two scouts we spoke with after the event, one of whom was not at the Pro Day, said Tom projects well as a center at the next level.
Speed At Any Level
Every NFL workout, whether it is for the Combine, Pro Days, or individual team workouts puts a big spotlight on the times in the 40. There has never been a play in the history of pro football where a player ran a straight line, with no gear, and no football in hand, for 40 yards. Yet, it is the number from that sprint, which gets everyone’s attention.
There were no official times kept by the school. And the scouts are not overly eager to share their stopwatch results. By media handheld times, both defensive back Ja’Sir Taylor and receiver Jaquarii Roberson ran in the neighborhood of a 4.35. Roberson says he was told he ran a 4.43. The scouts of course will use their numbers. Regardless, those are inarguably good times in the 40.
Roberson just barely missed the cut in getting an invitation to the Combine. He admitted that the snub was both disappointing and a catalyst for future workouts. “It definitely is motivation. For sure that was the biggest thing. I wanted to have some motivation going into Pro Day,” he said. Roberson also said he was pleased with his workouts. “I ran routes well. I tested well. That definitely helped me. I don’t think it hurt me. Only up from here.”
He said the next step in his preparation for the hoped-for NFL call is to focus on the playbooks and get used to it being a different game at the next level.
A Friendly Arm
Roberson, Donald Stewart, and tight end Brandon Chapman benefitted from a recent rule change that allows currently active players to help in Pro Days on campus. That meant they were getting their throws from Sam Hartman. “It felt like old times,” Roberson said.
The newly clean-shaven Hartman was in sync with his receivers, giving them catchable passes even on fly patterns, as he also gave the scouts a little preview of his own Pro Day this time next year.
Most of the players said they had a lot of nerves going into the day, with the lead-up to the event and with so much being at stake. Thirty-two pro football teams watching everything you do for a couple of hours, with your football future in their hands is no easy undertaking. But without fail, every one of the players we spoke with said once they hit the field, the instincts and football muscle memory kicked in and it helped ease them through the drills.
Defensive back Traveon Redd said he had to go to his music library while warming up in order to calm the nerves. “I had to listen to some music to calm me down and just get moving and get my body right,” he said. And what was the music that did that? “I like to mix it up with a little bit of R&B and a little bit of rap.” He said music from Lil Wayne usually gets him pumped up, so it was the R&B today to calm the nerves.
Sciba Gets In His Kicks
The last one on the field was kicker Nick Sciba. He had been working out on his own throughout everyone else’s drills, trying to get loose. He was slightly hampered by doing everything inside. A couple of his kickoffs hit the ceiling in the field house. But he said scouts told him they could tell the kicks had hang time and distance under normal circumstances. He was also urged, by the Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith, to do a “mayday drill.” He had to simulate running out on the field in the closing 12 seconds of a game with the clock running and get off his field goal. He was money on the 42-yard attempt. Sciba said he was unfazed by the pressure drill. “It was like a mayday situation like I’m used to hearing Clawson yell at me,” he said lightheartedly.
Sciba is getting an individual team workout with Carolina in a couple of weeks. Taylor has one with Cincinnati next week. Others are sure to get some calls, via their agents, from other teams in the next day or two.
Most of the players paid verbal tribute to the growth of the Wake Forest program. The size of the day was the result of the growth of the facilities, the recruiting, and the program. over the years that led to a day of this size. But mostly they were glad they could stop doing workouts geared towards a cone drill or a time in the 40 and could go back to doing regular football workouts.
Main Image courtesy Jaylynn Nash/Wake Forest Athletics.