They arrived at Winter Park mostly from little-known schools such as American International, Knox and Hobart. They squeezed into purple spandex shirts with only a number, essentially their name for the day. And they laced up their cleats for what could be their last, and in some cases only, chance at grabbing the NFL's attention.
On Saturday morning, roughly 150 draft-eligible NFL hopefuls forked over the $150 fee to participate in one of the NFL's regional combines at Winter Park. The purpose of these events is to give college players who were not invited to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis a chance to be evaluated in the same combine tests and on-field drills.
The league has been conducting these regional combines since 2012, with several per year at various NFL team facilities. Saturday's was the first to be held in Minnesota.
"Everybody's got a different path to the NFL. Players come in all shapes and sizes and come from different places," said former Vikings center Matt Birk, who is now the NFL's director of football development. "Most of these guys here are from smaller schools. … A lot of these guys get overlooked. There's only so many spots in Indy."
With Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and assistant GM George Paton watching from a balcony and a handful of NFL scouts patrolling the sideline, players first participated in standard combine tests such as the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump. Then they ran through the same kinds of position-specific drills that NFL Network televised from Indianapolis.
The results of the tests are available to all 32 teams, as is film of the on-field drills.
"This gives these guys a chance to showcase their skills. It also helps out our clubs. They get to evaluate a large number of players in one spot," Birk said. "And after they go through the workout, they might say, 'OK, I may need to go take a closer look at this kid' from, say, the University of South Dakota or from Shippensburg."
There were players from Div. I FBS schools in attendance, including Gophers safety Antonio Johnson, but the majority of the participants were from small schools.
"It gave me a great chance to come out here and showcase my talents," Augsburg linebacker Mykar Groves said. "I've wanted to do this since I was a little kid. Going to a small school, not many people get invited to the combine in Indianapolis."
Three players who attended a regional combine last year were drafted, led by Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker, a fourth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens. There are currently 103 players on NFL offseason rosters who attended a regional combine between 2012 and 2015.
One is Adam Thielen. In 2013, he participated at a regional combine in Chicago. He went undrafted, but the Vikings invited him to Winter Park for a tryout. The receiver later earned an invitation to training camp then a spot on the practice squad. He became a valuable special-teams contributor for the Vikings the past two seasons.