Jovan Belcher played his last game in a University of Maine uniform back on Nov. 21.
Ever since, he has been training for the opportunity to earn a spot on a National Football League roster.
Saturday afternoon, the Football Championship Subdivision consensus All-American was back on the field with his best chance yet to showcase his skills in front of NFL scouts and a national TV audience.
Belcher turned in a strong performance for The Nation team in its 27-24 victory over Texas in the third annual Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Challenge played in El Paso, Texas.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year last fall made seven tackles from his outside linebacker position to help The Nation all-stars beat the Texas squad.
“I loved it. It was good to be back on my feet,” Belcher said Monday, referring to playing outside linebacker. He spent the last two seasons at UMaine playing out of a three-point stance as a defensive end.
“It was just good to get out there and run around again and try to cause problems, like always,” Belcher said.
Only Montana safety Colt Anderson, another FCS player, was in on more tackles (nine) than Belcher for The Nation. Belcher also played regularly on the Nation’s kickoff coverage and punt assault units.
“My biggest thing was I wanted to play as many special teams as I could so the NFL scouts could see that I could be versatile,” Belcher said.
Belcher received some nice TV exposure after the game. He was shown congratulating The Nation head coach Howard Schnellenberger. Later, Belcher was in a shot that featured his mother, Cheryl Shepard, taking photos of him.
The weeklong event provided Belcher and numerous NFL hopefuls, most of them from Bowl Championship Subdivision schools, with a chance to interact with a horde of NFL scouts.
Along with the physical evaluations was an in-depth interview process, one that didn’t involve a lot of football discussion.
“It was more them trying to get the feeling about what type of people we were,” Belcher explained. “They’re really looking at people who are going to represent their organization well. That’s important if you’re going to spend a lot of money on somebody.”
Belcher roomed last week with Antonio Appleby, an inside linebacker who played at the University of Virginia.
“Him coming from a bigger school and me from a smaller school, it was pretty interesting to see how we came to the same playing field,” Belcher said. “We’re all training and trying to get to the next level.”
Belcher is preparing himself to be more of an outside linebacker than a defensive end at the pro level. He said it appears as though the best fit for him would be playing OLB in a 3-4 defensive scheme.
That will require Belcher to demonstrate more speed and agility, with the ability to cover pass receivers.
“I do want to get a little bit bigger. I’ve been working on my speed and dropping into pass coverage,” said Belcher, who has been training at TEST Sports Club in Somerset, N.J.
His training regimen, which runs Monday through Saturday, also includes yoga in addition to weight training, agility work and positional play.
“They’re preparing us for everything we’ll see when we get there [NFL combines or tryouts] and things we’ll potentially see at the next level.”
Belcher said it is difficult to gauge the level of interest from NFL scouts, especially when you come from a small program such as UMaine. He is simply focusing on his training.
“I take it step by step,” Belcher said. “I try to give my best in everything I do. I’ve got to keep working hard and see what I can do and leave it up to the people in higher places to make a decision.”
Belcher said he will return to Orono next month for UMaine’s pro day, when a handful of NFL scouts will put him and a couple of his former Black Bear teammates through a series of strength, speed and agility tests. After that, all he can do is wait to see what happens during the NFL draft April 25-26.