Path to the draft is our five-part series detailing BYU’s latest group of NFL prospects hoping to hear their name called at this weekend’s upcoming draft. Here we look at James Empey, the stalwart center who helped anchor BYU’s offensive line for the past four seasons.

James Empey has long bled BYU blue.

His father, Mike, was an offensive lineman at BYU in the early 1990s, with James following in his footsteps. In addition, two of Empey’s sisters — Haven and Savannah — play on the BYU women’s soccer team.

“BYU was a special place for me all growing up,” Empey said. “My family went there, so when I had the opportunity to do it I was really excited because it’s just always been a special place for me.”

A starter on the offensive line since 2018, Empey has been part of a number of notable moments in recent BYU history.

“My freshman year we went to Wisconsin and beat those guys. The next year, we went to Tennessee and beat those guys,” Empey said. “The whole entire 2020 season was just a fiasco and so much fun, and then last year with all the big games we played and beating Utah.. a whole lot of fun.”

James Empey stares down Utah’s Chase Hansen on Nov. 24, 2018. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Empey started 41 games at center for the Cougars over his career, missing time over the past two seasons due to various injuries including a leg issue sustained against Washington State that ended his campaign. When healthy, there were few centers in college football as effective as Empey, who was named a Freshman All-American in 2019 in addition to a number of further accolades both on the field and in the classroom.

Although Empey still had another season of eligibility remaining, he decided to declare for the 2022 NFL Draft, a decision that didn’t come easy for him and his wife.

“Ultimately we just felt like it was time to take that step and to move on, and when you feel that way, you just gotta you just gotta roll with it,” Empey said. “I’m just so grateful for everything that BYU has done for me.”


Leading up to pro day, Empey trained at Sports Academy at the Star in Frisco, Texas. Sports Academy’s campus is right next to the Dallas Cowboys’ training facilities and features both indoor and outdoor turf fields, a diagnostics lab, weight room, recovery suite and more. High profile athletes such as Super Bowl champion Aaron Donald have also trained at Sports Academy. 

To prepare for his pro day tests, Empey did field work, drills and workouts with trainer Les Spellman and his crew. Spellman is the creator of the speed program Spellman Performance, a program which has trained national soccer and rugby players, numerous Olympians and NFL players such as Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence. 

For position work, Empey trained under Duke Manyweather’s program, OL Masterminds, developed specifically for offensive linemen. Eleven offensive lineman in Empey’s group participated in the 2022 NFL combine.

James Empey trains at Sports Academy at the Star in Dallas. (Anna Brower)

“It’s really cool because it’s O-Line focused, so I get a lot of position specific work,” Empey said. “All day we’re just trying to work out really hard and keep our bodies healthy enough so that we can work out really hard again.”

Empey has not only worked on getting bigger, faster, and stronger in preparation for pro day drills, but has also spent time focusing on the necessary mental skills for the NFL. 

Empey worked with a sports psychologist who helped prepare him for interviews with NFL teams, the mental aspect of training and how to get the most out of his mind. Additionally, Empey attended the Cognition Lab at the Sports Academy, which focuses on training the brain in different areas such as reaction time, multitasking and dual processing.

“It’s been just a huge learning process this whole time that we’ve been out here,” Empey said. “Every morning I look forward to a little bit more.”


At BYU’s pro day, Empey was able to show scouts he had recovered from his season ending injury by competing in all testing and drills. Empey participated in the bench press (23 reps), vertical jump (25.5 inches), broad jump (8 feet 3 inches), 40-yard dash (5.43 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.71 seconds) and three-cone drill (7.71 seconds). With 23 reps in the bench press, Empey would have ranked eighth among offensive lineman at the Combine.

The 2022 NFL Draft will begin Thursday in Las Vegas.

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