"You always watch and hear about this day, and now it's your time to shine."
These were the words of Derrick Johnson after the University of Texas Pro Timing Day. For eight Longhorn seniors today was the day to show the NFL scouts and coaches what they had to offer. Excitement, anticipation and expectation filled the air of the Dr. Nassar Al-Rashid Strength and Training Center and the Bubble at Denius Fields as the Longhorn NFL hopefuls, ran, jumped and drilled for nearly 100 high-profile members of the NFL community representing 27 teams.
"This day gives players extra exposure," said Chick Harris, running backs coach of the Houston Texans. "The players here gave us what we wanted to see and everyone was very accommodating. We try to set this day up to where every drill has the same dimensions as the combine."
Several other distinguished members of the NFL community including Gil Brandt, senior analyst at NFL.com as well as Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Keith Rowan, joined Harris. Also in attendance were the player's families, current Longhorn football players, as well as former Longhorns Leonard Davis, Cory Redding and Marcus Wilkins.
Marcus Wilkins knows just how important Pro-timing day can be, especially for the lesser-known players. "Pro Day put me on the map. In 2002, everyone was here to see Quentin Jammer and Mike Williams, but I came out and put on a show," said Wilkins, a linebacker with the Cincinnati Bengals. "Without Pro Day I wouldn't be in the NFL. All the scouts are here and they are watching so you have to make them take notice."
"I am really impressed with how well organized an event this day is, " said Brandt. "There are over 70 scouts here and everything is done under ideal conditions. This is really an ideal program."
All the hard work, sacrifice and dedication would begin to show as the eight Longhorn seniors began to showcase their abilities through a series of tests and drills. The Longhorns would have their chance to make another impression in the minds of those who hold their futures. For RB Cedric Benson, DB Phillip Geiggar, WR Tony Jeffery, LB Derrick Johnson, K Dusty Mangum, FB Will Matthews, QB Chance Mock, and TE Bo Scaife, this was their opportunity to shine.
The day began shortly after 11 a.m. with heights, weights and measures in the Al-Rashid Strength and Training Center. The room was packed with everyone craning to get a view of the spectacle that is Pro-Timing Day. After the players were measured they began the physical tests of vertical jump and long jump. Following the jumping tests, players demonstrated their strength during the 225-pound bench press rep test. Many of the current Longhorn players were on hand to watch their former teammates.
"It's very exciting to see the seniors come back and we are all supporting them," explained junior DT Rod Wright. "I am just taking notes right now. I know that I'll be in this position next year and it's going to come fast so I'm definitely paying attention."
The crowd then moved to the bubble at Denius Fields for the remainder of the tests and drills. The NFL scouts suggested having the running and skill drills in the bubble to give the players ample room to prepare. While it was noted that the soft FieldTurf was probably a bit slower than the track in Indianapolis, the Longhorns did not disappoint. Being on home turf is what makes Pro-day such an inviting event for the players and why many choose to opt out of drills at the combine in Indianapolis.
"When all the scouts, coaches and general managers come here to watch you work out on your home turf, it makes you more comfortable. It's like a game day. This is what we live for," said Cory Redding, defensive end with the Detroit Lions.
With the winningest senior class in Texas football history on its way out, Coach Mack Brown was extremely pleased and beaming proud to display some of the finest talent in Longhorn history.
"This is an exciting day for us. This has been the most productive class in school history with 43 wins," Brown said. "They are going to take them based on the production they've had over the last four years, but this is part of the formula -- how they respond after being put through all these tests."
Even after having an outstanding day, RB Cedric Benson echoed the sentiments of Coach Brown.
"I think my career says a lot. The years, the work, the yardage, the improvement year after year, I think that says the most."
Pittsburgh Steelers Scout Joe Greene added, "I think the most important thing these players have is what they got when they were at this school. They learn how to play, and be good citizens and students. A University of Texas football player, most of the time, is going to have a very high degree of success in the pros. A day like today gives them an opportunity to validate the previous years they spent at this university."
After running the 40-yard dash, the players participated in position agility drill administered by NFL scouts and coaches, giving them a chance to work with the coaches, but also giving the coaches the opportunity to see how the players responded to direction and critique.
At the end of the day, the overwhelming sentiment was relief and excitement. The players were glad that the day was over and that they performed well, and were excited about what is to come.
"For a minute it felt like this day would never come. I am so excited that it is finally here," Benson said. "When I look back over high school and college and some of the hurdles I had to jump, it seems like a lot. But I just always said my prayers and had an angel on my side, and here I am."