Former Irish stars chase NFL dreams at Pro Day
The NFL Draft circus came to town Wednesday, as all 32 NFL teams were in attendance at Notre Dame's Pro Day to see 17 former Irish players make their case for why they should play on Sundays.
The star of the day was undoubtedly former Irish CB Julian Love.
After running a 4.54 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, the All-American shaved nearly 0.1 seconds off his 40-time, clocking a 4.45. For Love, this stage is just the latest to conquer on his path to the pros.
"Since high school, I was always showing my worth, proving myself," Love said. "This was kind of another step. There's a few more things before the draft, but this was the last big step to show what I have, and it was fun. My family was here, my agent, it was just a good time."
Love is expected to be Day 2 pick in the NFL Draft.
Former Irish linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te'von Coney also hoped to impress the scouts. After four years of thumping opposing quarterbacks, Coney is ready to prove he belongs in the NFL.
"This is something I've dreamed for since I was five-years-old," Coney said. "To have the chance to go to the combine, to have a chance at the NFL, so it's truly a blessing to be out here and be able to run around and show scouts what I can do as a player and who I am as a person as well."
Tranquill, meanwhile, has mastered his sales pitch.
"I truly believe I'm the most complete football player in this draft," Tranquill said. "I'm a guy that can play all four downs and can move around. I'm a guy that can learn multiple different positions and be available at any given week and go out there and perform. I certainly think I'm proving that as the weeks go on, but we're going to continue to attack and try to prove that heading into the draft."
He also has his eyes set on much higher goals than just hearing his name called next month.
"The national championship dream kind of faded away a little bit there when we lost to Clemson," Tranquill said. "I set my eyes and now I want to win a Super Bowl. That's kind of my dream - it's not necessarily to make the NFL, it's to win a Super Bowl. It doesn't just stop at making a team, I want to take an organization and help them win a Super Bowl."
The Notre Dame player though who is most likely to be the first one off the board, didn't participate Wednesday. That would be defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, who is recovering from shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum he suffered during Notre Dame's win over Stanford in September.
Even though he didn't get to showcase his talents in front of NFL scouts, he already knows what kind of pro he is going to be.
"A really, really good one," Tillery said. "Someone who is really good."
On the other side of the ball, wide receiver Miles Boykin sat on his outrageous numbers from the NFL Combine (4.42 40-time, 43.5" vertical) and only did position drills.
Notre Dame's leading pass-catcher from a year ago believes he brings something to pro offenses that nobody else does.
"I'm a unique receiver," Boykin said. "The combine performance that I put up hasn't been done by a receiver in over ten years, and it might be the best one by a receiver of all time. So I'm unique, haven't seen too many people like me, per say, but just things that I can do on the field - I'm versatile, I can play anywhere on the field. I'm smart, I'm going to come in and learn an offense, and character. When you draft Notre Dame guys you get a character guy."
Dexter Williams meanwhile made a game-time decision to run the 40-yard dash at the Pro Day, hoping to improve upon his 4.57 time he recorded at the combine. He ran just a tick slower - two actually - on Wednesday, running consecutive times of 4.59 seconds.
He also caught the ball out of the backfield from former Irish signal-caller and current quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees. The running back wanted to prove he could make plays in all phases of the game at the next level, and he believes he did just that.
"Today was a great day," Williams said. "There was a lot of energy, just felt more comfortable being at home, being in my type of environment, so I couldn't turn it down. Just like, great vibes, the energy was good, felt like myself again - felt like I was preparing for gameday actually, so it was good."
Pro Day is also an opportunity for players who weren't invited to the NFL Combine to show their stuff, and make an impression on pro teams.
That includes guys like former center and two-time captain Sam Mustipher, who hopes he did enough to get a team to take a chance on him.
"Not being invited, it was a pleasure to come out here and perform in front of all of these guys, and just being around my teammates again," Mustipher said. "It was awesome. Anytime you're able to compete like today, any guy like me is going to have fun with that."
After working and training their whole lives to play on Sundays, that dream now lies closer than ever.
"When you're a kid, you really think about your endpoint," Boykin said. "Oh, I want to play in the NFL, I want to play in the NBA, so for me it was never about the things that were going to be happening in between, I just knew where I wanted to finish. I knew I was going to have to put the work in to get there, but no, I couldn't have envisioned a better career. It probably wasn't the most productive, but the things that I went through, I'm thankful for, and if I had to do it all over again I would in a heartbeat."
The NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 25th and runs through Saturday, April 27th.