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Pro Day Offers NFL Chance For Former Sooners

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Wednesday, more than 20 football players went through a litany of drills—clothed simply in spandex—for more than three hours, all for a coveted shot at becoming a player in the NFL.

The scene at Everest Indoor Training Facility in Norman was a new experience for most of the former Oklahoma players who had just completed their final season in January. However, there were a handful of players who were going through the process once again, still trying to achieve their lifelong goal of making it at the next level.

"It's actually pretty good this year because all we had to do was the 40 and the drills," former Sooners cornerback Brian Jackson said. "A lot of teams, they just really want to see guys that are coming off of an injury, if they're healthy for one and that they can still move and run to keep up with the guys in the league. This is an opportunity to be seen by everybody instead of just waiting for one team to give you a call."

Jackson, as well as former OU safety Nic Harris and linebacker Jaydan Bird were all going through the process once more. Jackson and Harris are coming off injuries that have kept them out of the league since 2011, while Bird didn't find his way onto any teams last season, but isn't giving up hope.

"It's been a dream of mine since second grade and I'm just trying to achieve that goal and get that one behind me," Bird said.

To the casual observer, it's strange to see players' value determined by a bunch of drills done with the absence of a helmet and pads.

"Ultimately they want to see you in an environment that is not favorable to you and see how you prevail," Harris said. "They want to see how you move with all eyes on you."

However, just because a player performs well during drills in a controlled environment doesn't mean they have what it takes to be an NFL player. Jackson mentioned last year's OU Pro Day star, Jesse Paulsen, who posted the top number in nearly every drill, but didn't find himself on an NFL roster for the season.

"It's hard to get in if you don't have the film," Jackson said. "This (pro day) matters, but at the end of the day, it's production. They want to see what you can do on the field."

The life lived by players who are still looking for work is not an easy one and not for those with commitment issues. There are sacrifices to be made, but sometimes, difficult decisions have to be made as well.

"Unsettling, to say the least," Harris said about not having a team. "You have to go and you want to perfect your craft and be as great and be prepared when they call, but you have to go provide for your family as well. It's like a double-edged sword. You have to provide for your family, which is going to take away time from training. You just have to find that balance and hope whenever they call and want you to come in and work out, you're ready."

Bird hasn't put his life on hold for training for the NFL. In fact, he works a full-time job at Conoco Phillips and travels to Kansas every weekend to train.

"I get up at 4 a.m. and I do two and a half hours after work every day at the gym with lifting and then on weekends, I travel up to Kansas with my trainer and train with him and come back and do it all again the next week," Bird said. "It's a long schedule, no down time, but I like it that way. Better to have no down time than too much free time."

Bird already went through one NFL regional combine last month in Houston, and will be participating in the super-regional combine in Detroit on April 12. Three combine-style events in as many months means lots of eyeballs and lots of advice flowing back to him from scouts.

"Your agent contacts these scouts and they'll say what they thought and what you can improve on," Bird said. "You can definitely use that advice and move forward, especially when I have another combine coming up to show my abilities."

It'd be wrong to say players don't desire to go to one NFL team over another, but Harris said players in his position don't have the luxury of being picky.

"When you're on my side of the ball, you worry about playing," Harris said. "You don't worry about playing favorites. That's child's play. When you're on my side, you look at it as a business. I just want to come in and provide."

As great as the NFL dream is, everyone has their limits. Jackson has spent time in the league and said he's done plenty to show teams what he is capable of doing.

"Hopefully I get a look this year," Jackson said. "A couple of teams were interested and kind of want to see what I can do, how I move around, especially coming off an injury.

"This is my last one (pro day). This is definitely my last one. You can see what I've put on film and hopefully that will give me an edge and once I get back out there, I'm not coming out until I'm ready to come out."

The dream of playing in the NFL is one that doesn't die easily. Even though this trio has been gone from OU as many as five years (Harris), on Wednesday, Norman once again became their launching pad for NFL dreams.


Pro Day Highlights

-The biggest stars of the day were the two smallest players—running back Roy Finch and former Ohio and Norman North running back Beau Blankenship. Both were excellent in all the speed drills, finishing 1-2 in the 40-yard dash with times of 4.44 (Finch) and 4.47 (Blankenship). Both were also impressive during individual running back drills.

-Former OU walk-on Dominique Whaley was having an impressive day, posting 25 reps in the bench press before straining a hamstring on his second 40-yard dash attempt. It was an unfortunate setback for Whaley, who has struggled to prove himself after an ankle injury at Kansas State prematurely ended his breakout 2011 season.

-Aaron Colvin and Trey Millard didn't participate in any of the drills as both continue to recover from ACL injuries. Gabe Ikard participated in offensive lineman drills, but did not participate in individual drills after a strong performance at the NFL Combine last month.

-Top performances in each drill:

Bench press: Bronson Irwin- 30 reps

40-yard dash: Roy Finch- 4.44 seconds

Vertical jump: Bryan Ekwede- 41.5 inches

20-yard shuttle: Brennan Clay- 4.21 seconds

Three-Cone drill: Finch- 7.14 seconds

60-yard shuttle: Kass Everett- 11.22 seconds

Broad jump: Jaz Reynolds- 10 feet, 5 inches

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