An atmosphere of heavy anticipation mixed with excitement accompanied the damp chill that settled over the practice field yesterday afternoon as Florida A&M’s potential National Football League prospects determinedly traipsed onto the field.
It was the first NFL Pro Day ever held on Florida A&M’s campus and was long-awaited after the lifting of a 4-year NCAA sanction. The penalties in the sanction included the reduction of grants and scholarships for funding of fifteen sports, football practices being reduced by 20 hours, and the development of a comprehensive, educational and testing session on NCAA rules. Also, the team was forced to return $175,000 in revenue sharing.
Head Coach Joe Taylor said it was a great opportunity for his players, and was appreciative of the opportunity for them to showcase their talent. Scouts were present from prominent teams around the country, including the Colts, Buccaneers, Raiders, Patriots, 49ers, Titans and Saints.
“In all sincerity, this is a testament that hard work pays off,” Taylor said. “If you work, somebody’s going to see it and is going to want see more. If you’re a winner, people are going to want you on board. To have this many guys that [NFL scouts] feel have potential is something special.”
Defensive back Jason Beach stood out as one of those talented potential recruits. As a graduate and former player for Florida A&M, Beach had one of the best performances in all of the drills, including an impressive 35 ½ inch vertical jump. Beach said that while he has already signed with an agency, Sports Management Worldwide” in Bologna, Italy, the opportunity to participate in Pro Day is like a dream come true.
“Oh man, it’s been a long time coming,” Beach said as a huge grin spread across his face. “You can’t put it in words when you’re given that opportunity. But a lot of people don’t get that chance, so you just have to take advantage of it.”
Senior offensive guard Robert Okeafor said he was overwhelmed with the enormity of opportunity presented during Pro Day. He had a particularly solid performance, and felt confident that his hard work combined with extensive preparation from his coaches would translate into an eventual draft.
“I hired an agent in January, and asked him to get my name out there,” Okeafor said. “Mostly, I’ve just been trying to make sure I watched what I ate and my weight and all that. I got my weight down so I’ll be alright.”
According to Taylor, Okeafor’s confidence was perfectly justifiable. He emphasized the workouts and training that were part of his system prepared the players for Pro Day, and helped acclimate them to NFL-style workouts.
“When we get up at 5:45 a.m. we’re doing the same thing [that they’re doing today],” Taylor said. “There is no unfamiliarity here so their anxiety is a lot lower. Nobody is trembling, nobody is shaking…sure there’s a few butterflies but that’s just human nature. They’re enjoying their time and they deserve this time. They’ve earned it.”