Cameron Botticelli was a little-known walk-on from Milwaukee when he arrived at the University of Minnesota in 2010. He wound up starting 47 games for the Gophers and was named their defensive lineman of the year last season.
So go ahead and tell Botticelli that the NFL might be out of reach. He didn’t get invited to the combine last month and probably won’t be one of the 250-plus players picked in the draft.
But Botticelli will be among several recent graduates going all out Monday, when the Gophers hold their annual pro day before a throng of NFL scouts at the Gibson/Nagurski Football Complex.
Maxx Williams, Damien Wilson and David Cobb will look to build off their performances at the combine, though Cobb could still be limited after injuring a quad in Indianapolis.
The list of other NFL hopefuls expected to work out Monday includes Cedric Thompson, Derrick Wells, Zac Epping, Michael Amaefula, Isaac Fruechte, Donnell Kirkwood, Logan Hutton, Harold Legania, Ben Perry, Devon White and Marcus Jones. Another interesting one to watch will be Derrick Engel, who was the Gophers’ leading receiver in 2013 before tearing an ACL late that season.
Getting drafted would be a dream for all these players, but what they all want most is a chance to perform in an NFL camp.
“I’ve prepared myself all along to make my way and to create an opportunity for myself as an undrafted free agent,” Botticelli said. “Whatever opportunity I get, I will attack with every ounce of fervor [as] I have everything else to this point.”
At pro day, players will perform all the drills from the combine — including the 40-yard dash, broad jump, vertical jump, bench press, three-cone drill and shuttle. Several of these players have been training for this since Jan. 2, the day after the team’s Citrus Bowl loss to Missouri.
That next day, Botticelli flew from Orlando to Nashville, where he worked out at the DI Sports Training complex. Botticelli, Thompson and Wilson also had a chance to impress scouts at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, Calif.
Botticelli measured 6-5, 292 pounds at the NFLPA Bowl and hopes the rest of his measurements — 40 time, etc. — hit their peak Monday. Then again, these numbers have never defined him.
Recent Super Bowls have shown the path to stardom doesn’t always include the combine. Malcolm Butler, who made the game-saving interception for New England this year, wasn’t at the combine and wasn’t drafted. Malcolm Smith, the MVP of last year’s Super Bowl for Seattle, wasn’t at the combine either and sneaked into the 2011 draft in the seventh round, at No. 242 overall.
“Some of the best things that I bring to the table can’t be measured at the combine,” Botticelli said. “As far as understanding defenses schematically, being coachable, being a positive leader. I think whoever does take a chance on me, they’re going to have to wait until they get me to camp because you can’t measure that stuff in person.”
“No matter what happens at pro day, I’m still going to have to go out and earn it the hard way, just as I’ve done here at the University of Minnesota.”