How the Ohio State Pro Day showcases talented players and how I handled it.
All university students have the opportunity to attend one or more job fairs. College athletes are no exception, but when the NFL comes to campus to check out prospective players, it’s always a big deal.
When I was a student at Ohio State, we always knew about the Ohio State Pro Day, it was obvious what was going on, but we couldn’t simply attend as fans. You needed special authorization to get in, and if you weren’t a player, or otherwise involved, you weren’t likely to get it.
But then, in 2014, I got a media pass to the Ohio State Pro Day. I was working for a sports website, so I got to attend and report back on how the latest group of NFL hopefuls were shaping up. Running back Carlos Hyde, linebacker Ryan Shazier, and cornerback Bradley Roby headlined the class. And I walked on to that practice field feeling like I was on top of the world.
Not all the Buckeye players attend the Ohio State Pro Day, only those who have declared for the upcoming NFL Draft. Nor is everyone there a Buckeye, since smaller schools sometimes send promising players to pro day, too. It’s not quite an audition, since nobody actually gets picked for a team until the spring, but it is the players’ last chance to make a good impression.
I’ve said pro day is like any other college job fair, and it is, but with a couple of important exceptions.
First, the students aren’t showing off their resumes and discussing their relevant experience in sales or engineering, they’re running plays and completing speed and agility drills. After pro day itself, there is time for players and their agents to talk to the NFL staff. Second, the chance of a student athlete actually signing an NFL contract are extremely small. If you think about how many talented players there are in all the college teams in the country, versus how few new rookies are drafted every year, you can see why it’s important for college athletes to get a good education—most of them are going to need it.
The stakes, at pro day, are high.
I watched players run their 40-yard dash, do the cone drills, and complete other agility drills. Some opted out of some of these activities. Not everyone had to do everything. While one player demonstrated, for example, his receiving ability, other team members would defend him, act as decoys, or otherwise participate in the demonstration. We could also see how the players interacted with each other, how they communicated, and how they functioned as members of a team. There’s more to playing well than throwing and catching, after all.
I didn’t personally have a great view. The best spots were all taken up by NFL personnel, who were sometimes only inches away from the action. Those of us in the media were farther back, maybe 120 feet, depending on one’s spot. But I could still see a lot of talent from close up. I could see how Urban Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff were interacting with the players. I could see how the NFL personnel were paying attention to the drills and what details seemed important to them. There were a lot of big names there—for example, I noticed former Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly (now the head coach of the UCLA Bruins) and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock discussing football in my general area.
I have to admit I was nervous. I’d never been to any kind of similar event. I wasn’t used to being surrounded by famous people. I wasn’t used to being treated like a real professional, either. It was kind of surreal. But there I was. And I knew I belonged.
It was great to have the opportunity to see how the other people in the media conducted themselves, great to be able to listen to scouts and seasoned reporters talking among themselves and hear what they were noticing and how that could translate to the NFL. I remember thinking I wasn’t sold on Shazier’s speed. I questioned his matchup ability, to a degree. I was wrong about him, of course, he’s gone on to play very well for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I got my projections right on some of the others, and I got my first real taste of professional sports analysis.
Attending my first Division One pro day was a lot of fun—really, a bucket-list experience–but it also gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about football and about sports reporting. It gave me one of my first experiences as a professional, and helped provide a foundation for the career I’ve been building ever since.
There is a first time for everything, and the more first times you do, the more experience you get, the more you learn, and the more connections you make. Would my career be shaping up the same way if I hadn’t gone to that pro day? Maybe. There are a lot of different ways to learn the same things. But maybe not. Anyway, I wouldn’t trade it. And I can say, if you get a chance to try something new in your field, take it.
You never know what the next first time could lead too.