While the current Huskers are ramping up for spring football to begin on Friday, some of those who have exhausted their eligibility or chosen to move on took to the weight room and practice field to show off their abilities at Nebraska’s Pro Day.
Eleven players who just wrapped up their Nebraska careers plus four other former Huskers took part in the pro day as scouts from 26 NFL teams and three CFL teams showed up in Lincoln to get a look at the former Huskers.
All five Huskers who participated in the NFL Combne — Tanner Lee, Nick Gates, Drew Brown, Chris Jones and Joshua Kalu — took part to varying degrees while fullback Luke McNitt, tight end Tyler Hoppes, safety Kieron Williams, offensive lineman David Knevel, linebacker Marcus Newby and wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El participated as well. Tommy Armstrong Jr., Daniel Davie, Josh Banderas and Mohammed Seisay rounded out the crew of Huskers.
For those that weren’t fortunate enough to receive a combine invitation, the school’s pro day may be a player’s only chance to catch the eye of a scout or two.
“The feeling I had last night and this morning was very similar to a game day,” McNitt said. “I woke up about 5 o’clock this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, couldn’t eat much. It felt a lot like a game and I think it was the same way — you’re nervous, the worst part is those two hours before where you’re sitting around waiting. But once you get started and once you start performing, it goes away and you’re just doing what you love.”
Former players including the likes of Brandon Reilly and Nathan Gerry and many members still on the team crowded around the athletes as they went through their lifting and vertical leaps and filled the balcony above the practice field, cheering their former teammates on.
“Having everyone here, former players, guys that I’m working out with, guys that are still on the team, having them there getting you hyped up, cheering for you, that’s what it’s all about,” McNitt said. “At the end of the day, those guys that you made friends with, those friendships are going to lats a lot longer than football and to see all those guys here supporting you, I was that guy siting up there watching all the pro days thinking about my time and now that it’s here and seeing all those guys up there it’s just an awesome, awesome experience.”
McNitt, a tight end-turned-fullback who got few touches during his time at Nebraska, had a strong day in the weight room, pumping out a pro day-leading 26 repetitions of 225 pounds (which he was disappointed in) and showing off a 34 inch vertical. McNitt’s 40-yard dash time was unofficially in the 4.6 range as well, a solid number for a fullback. That athleticism could make him appealing to professional teams as a special teams contributor.
“That’s definitely something I take pride in and something I kind of usually sell to the scouts — they need guys to play special teams, guys that are willing to do it and I think I’m one of those guys,” McNitt said. “I’ll come in and do whatever they ask me to do. I want to play on special teams; I’ve wanted to play on special teams since I was a freshman up until I was a senior captain. Special teams has always been something I’ve wanted to do. I think my special teams film coupled with not many reps at fullback with how the season went, but the reps I do have are pretty solid I think.”
Hoppes, Nebraska’s starting tight end last season, was said he was happy with his performance.
“I thought I did pretty good, generally,” Hoppes said. “The biggest thing was the bench press, I didn’t really show as good as I could have, didn’t show my strength. But I think jumps, the vertical and the broad jump, I think the 40 and my biggest thing I think was my on-field routes, that really excelled. Overall, it was a good day for me.”
Hoppes only managed 16 reps in the bench press, but he jumped 33 inches and looked pretty fluid as a receiver during drills.
For cornerback Chris Jones, the pro day was a chance to finish what he started at the combine as he cramped up during testing and wasn’t able to complete the drills. Jones recorded a 34.5-inch vertical and a 10-foot-1-inch broad jump and put up a similar time in the 40 to what he ran at the combine, unofficially in the 4.5 to 4.6 range.
Jones lost much of his senior season to a knee injury, but he said it checked out under the scrutiny of several doctors in Mobile for a hectic combine week.
“It’s crazy,” Jones said. “We only see the work-out day. We don’t know what they go through, a couple, three days before the work-out day. All I can say is early mornings, late nights.”
Jones said he’s back to full health and isn’t worried about the knee any more.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that that’s behind me and now I’m just back and better than I’ve ever been,” Jones said. “It feels good to just come out here and play ball.”
Jones said he doesn’t regret returning to the field as soon after surgery as he did during his senior year.
“I don’t think I pushed anything,” Jones said. “I feel like every test that they gave me, I passed it and I got stronger and stronger as it went on. The season went up-and-down for me but towards the end of the season I felt like i was getting my mojo back. I felt great in the NFL PA game and just kept working. I’ve been trying to take care of the little things. My knee is at 200 percent right now.”
Lee was there but chose not to participate in any of the testing after doing so at the combine. His pro day was all about putting his arm on display for the collection of scouts.
“I kept all of my numbers from the combine,” Lee said. “I feel like I had a solid performance there. So today I just focused on throwing. We’ve been going over a script with Tyler Hoppes, Luke McNitt and De’Mornay. Today we just got to go out and make about 45 to 50 throws and I think the guys looked great.”
Hoppes said Lee and his receives have been working together since the quarterback returned from the combine, determining which routes to include and further building up chemistry. Lee completed 43 of his 49 passes, the last of which was a bomb up the right sideline that the receiver hauled in.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Lee said. “It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s been about three months now of daily training and nutrition and throwing and the repetitive process of giving your best at this process. It’s good to see the guys come out and play well and perform and to cap it off with that was a lot of fun.”
Lee and his receivers were all on their own in terms of coming up with and executing the plan for Lee’s throwing session, but Lee said former Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has still been a big part of his draft preparation.
“He’s been a great help,” Lee said. “Obviously Coach Langs is still my right-hand man, so he’s been helping me along in this process. He’s been going through it for years now, so I definitely go back and forth with him a lot.”
Brown was another player who attended the combine but didn't do any athletic testing. He passed on that portion of pro day as well in favor of showing off his leg with some field goals and kickoffs towards the tail end of the day. Brown knows spots for his position are limited.
“Just like college, every team is signing a quarterback every single year pretty much,” Brown said. “Almost the same thing with the NFL — they’re signing almost every position every year; it’s a little bit different with kicking. There are not as many spots open and whatever opportunity you get, you have to be able to capitalize.”
Brown has a very good resource to rely on as he seeks an NFL career — his brother Kris, who played 12 years in the league and has been giving him some advice.
“It’s very similar to what he went through,” Drew said. “I’ve just got to be able to stay within myself and do what I know that I can do and hopefully the opportunities come and whenever they do I’ve got to make the most of them and just be myself. There’s a reason that I’m to the point where I am right now and I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing and keep having fun while I’m doing it.”
The NFL Draft is set to begin on April 26 and runs through April 28.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.