For most of the 11 former Gophers attending Wednesday’s Pro Day at the Athletes Village indoor practice facility, the early morning hours were spent tossing and turning.
“I woke up at 11, then again at 12, then again at 3 and at 5,” defensive tackle Steven Richardson said. “I’ve been up since 5.”
“I woke up at 3 or 4 o’clock this morning, thinking it was 6 o’clock,” running back Kobe McCrary added. “Let’s go ahead and get it over with.”
“I woke up at 3 o’clock and said, ‘Is it 6 o’clock yet?’ “ linebacker Jonathan Celestin concurred.
The players’ eagerness was understandable. None were invited to the NFL combine, and with 26 NFL team personnel members representing 22 teams on hand, they had a chance to make their case with prospective employers. They went through activities that included bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 40-yard dash and cone and agility sprints, along with position-specific drills.
Joining Richardson, McCrary and Celestin were 2017 Gophers Adekunle Ayinde, Vincent Calhoun, Merrick Jackson, Duke McGhee, Ryan Santoso, Andrew Stelter, Nate Wozniak and Garrison Wright. In addition, three local Division II or III players took part — St. Cloud State offensive lineman Bryce Johnson, Bemidji State offensive lineman Jake Krause and St. John’s wide receiver Evan Clark.
McCrary, Celestin and Richardson put up impressive numbers.
McCrary, a 6-1, 234-pounder, had 25 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, which would have ranked third among running backs at the NFL combine. He also had a 36-inch vertical jump, a 9-foot, 11-inch broad jump, and a 40-yard dash time of 4.75 seconds.
McCrary, who expects to sign as a free agent after NFL draft, says he has a lot to offer.
“Whatever team is giving me a chance, I’m going to make them happy,” he said. “… I’m a bigger back. I run hard, physical. I can block and catch passes out of the backfield, so however they want to use me.”
Celestin, the Gophers’ undisputed leader on defense last season, had 27 bench press reps, which would have tied for second at the combine. “During training, the highest I hit was 22, 23,” he said. “To jump up to 27, my adrenaline got going like game day. I’m very excited with my numbers.” Celestin also ran a 4.70 40, had a 32.5-inch vertical and a 9-8 broad jump.
The 5-11, 292-pound Richardson led all attendees with 31 bench press reps. That total would have tied for sixth among defensive lineman at the combine. “I was hitting 25, 27 consistently during training, and to come here and hit 31 was a big eye-opener,” he said.
Richardson was frustrated that he didn’t get an invitation to the combine, but he tried to turn it into a positive.
“Whoever takes a chance on me, it’s going to get something really great,” he said. “Not to talk myself up, but I’ve been saying the whole time, through high school and college, I’ve always been told, ‘No, you’re not tall enough, you can’t do it.’ I always have a chip on my shoulder.”
Gophers punter/kicker Ryan Santoso impressed, too. He showed off a big leg, just falling short on a field-goal attempt from 70 yards. “A lot of teams are looking at me as a combo guy — an emergency kicker, but mostly as a punter/kickoff guy,” he said. “Whatever opportunities open, I’m going to take it.”
Defensive lineman Andrew Stelter and tight end Nate Wozniak showed their versatility by also going through offensive line drills. “Just trying to find a way to get on team,” Stelter said.