Simply stated, the Longhorns' Pro Timing Day on Wednesday was not, for the 13 former players who tried out, about times or measurements. It was as much about who they are, as much as it was what they did.
Nearly 100 representatives from each of the 32 teams in the NFL spent much of late morning and mid-afternoon watching as the Longhorns went through a battery of tests and exercises, ranging from a measurement of the arms and hands to a 40-yard dash.
"Everybody is looking for an edge," said Red McCombs, the great Longhorns supporter and owner of the Minnesota Vikings. "You can get the specific times and the numbers a lot of ways. You don't have to be here to get that. What we are looking for here is that special something that will separate a player from the rest.
"You know who the top five or six guys in the country are and you can tell pretty quickly who the bottom five or six are. What we are looking for is where is that guy in the middle 30 who will give you something extra and what will separate him from the others?"
The players come with their hopes and their dreams to the floor of the Nasser Al-Rashid Strength & Conditioning Complex. They run, jump, stretch and lift, all under the trained eyes of men who know the game. What they know most, is that facts can be cruel.
If you are not fast, strong or agile enough, you usually cannot make it in "The League." Here, and only here, does "heart" become a wild card.
That is why teammates and fellow student-athletes gather to watch and to encourage. It might be to help Matt Trissel push the heavily-weighted bar bell up just one more time, before Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden had to help cradle the bar for the next player. It might be to lean, strain or stretch at any of the 12 checkpoints the hopefuls encounter. Roy Williams was there and so was Chance Mock. Even Longhorns basketball star T.J. Ford dropped by.
All the while, the representatives of the pro teams watch and write. The teams are represented by scouts, who make their living evaluating players, and also by coaches.
McCombs, who is well-known for his support of UT, was the only team owner in attendance, but it didn't take him long to get the feel for the day or the reaction of the other team representatives.
"They have tremendous respect for Coach Brown and this program," he said. "They know I have a close association with these guys, so they are very open to me about how they feel."
McCombs also made his feelings known to the Vikings staff, which included head coach Mike Tice, in one particular case.
Listed among the hopefuls was a former Longhorns running back who saw his dreams of playing in the NFL in 2001 crushed by a vicious tackle in the 2000 Holiday Bowl — a guy named Hodges Mitchell.
For two years, Mitchell has dreamed and worked hard every day, trying to overcome the injury suffered when an Oregon player planted his helmet squarely on his knee cap, sending him crumpling to the floor of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. It was the last football play of his college career. Many feared it was the last play of his career … period.
However, that is where the heart comes in. For there, in the testing, running and jumping, was Mitchell.
"I didn't know he was going to be here," McCombs said. "But I told my staff, 'he deserves a shot.' Somebody will give it to him."
C.O. Brocato, the veteran scout of the Tennessee Titans, is the ring master of the trials. In his many years in the business, he has seen many players and many tests.
"Everybody looks for something different," Brocato said. "I want to see how a guy bends and how he moves around the plastic cones. I want to see how low he can get to the ground and his flexibility. Most of all, it gives us all a chance to see them as people."
McCombs said it, so that UT head coach Mack Brown wouldn't have to. The visit to the Texas campus reassures the pro teams of one thing. It is here they find good kids, whose character is beyond question. They will make every effort to give their best.
The cold, hard fact is, only a few will make it to the NFL, but in dreams, you give it your best shot and hope that is enough. Maybe somebody, one of those guys with the logo shirts and a clipboard, will see something that will at least give you a chance for those dreams to come true.