NFL dreams could hinge on Pro Day performances

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NFL scouts from across the country will journey to Provo as BYU football hosts its 2014 Pro Day. Pro Day is scheduled for the morning of Friday, March 14, and will last into the afternoon.

At the event, players will get a chance to make a final impression on pro scouts and coaches in hopes of being selected in the NFL draft in May.

BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy makes a catch as he runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy makes a catch as he runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

NFL scouts scoped out players throughout their college careers, but Pro Day is meant to assess and compare all of a player’s specific skills.

“Pro Day is a player’s chance to show a scout what they are like as an athlete,” said Mike Poulson, BYU assistant to the director of football operations. “It can make or break the way they are viewed by many NFL teams. Scouts look at every aspect of the athlete, from what physical shape they are in to their mental toughness they perform under pressure.”

For these athletes, Pro Day is critical. Five players will headline the Cougars performing for the NFL scouts. Defensive stars Kyle Van Noy, Dan Sorensen and Eathyn Manumaleuna will be joined by offensive stars Cody Hoffman and Kaneakua Friel as they showcase their skills. Injured Cougar Uani Unga will also be in attendance as he recovers from a knee injury and prepares for a career in the NFL.

Athletes participating in Pro Day have been training since the end of last season.

“From the moment last season ended until the draft, players train for the NFL Combine and Pro Day,” Poulson said. “They often travel to California or somewhere else and train with other athletes from across the country that are also trying to get ready for the NFL. Everything they’ve done for the past three months has been building up to show off for the scouts.”

In February, the NFL held its annual Combine in Indianapolis where college standouts were invited to come and showcase their skills in one central location. Van Noy, Hoffman, Sorensen, Manumaleuna and Unga were among those invited. The conclusion of the Combine means Pro Day is the last evaluation before the draft.

For former BYU star running back Fui Vakapuna, Pro Day was a much-anticipated event.

“I thought it was exciting,” said Vakapuna, who now serves as the assistant to the athletic director for student services. “I think some guys just get nervous. The whole thing is such a production now.”

Vakapuna participated in BYU’s Pro Day in 2009 and was drafted by the Cincinatti Bengals in the seventh round of the subsequent draft. To Vakapuna, preparing for Pro Day is completely different from practice and preparation in the regular season.

“It’s a lot more individual and a lot more technical stuff,” Vakapuna said. “Everything is specific to what the drills were going to be. We prepared more for the specific drills (for Pro Day) than to win a game.”

For the BYU football coaches and administrators, Pro Day is an opportunity to showcase their program. Poulson pointed out that the impact of Pro Day can be an advantage in recruiting.

“Pro Day at BYU is very special because it goes to show the talent that we produce as a program is at an elite level and able to compete at the highest level of football,” Poulson said. “It is a great chance for our school to be showcased for the type of players that come out of our program.”

Vakapuna shed some light on what this year’s Pro Day participants are likely feeling.

“For the guys who didn’t go to the Combine, its a little nerve wracking. They wonder what’s going on, what’s gonna happen, how are things gonna change, how are coaches going to react to how I play and all that. I know there’s going to be a lot of things going on in their minds.”

At Pro Day, a poor performance can really hinder a player’s chances at a pro career. A slow 40-yard dash time, low number of reps or weak showing in a cone drill can completely alter a player’s draft stock. Vakapuna offered some advice on what this year’s participants need to do to perform at their personal best.

“Just blocking everything out and really focusing on themselves now,” Vakapuna said. “Don’t hear, don’t read. For guys that could be free agents to sixth- or seventh-round picks, I think they just need to focus on themselves and not worry about what everybody else is doing — just really sharpen their (own) skills.”

For athletes who have played football their entire lives, getting to the NFL was the ultimate goal. Now, in the final week of preparation before Pro Day, each player is within grasp of his dream.

“It’s going to determine their path: working 9–5 for the rest of their lives, or playing in the NFL and making six or seven figures,” Vakapuna said.

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