For Jovan Belcher and hundreds of other professional football hopefuls, this weekend marks the official start of the waiting game, also known as the sweat-it-out, 15-hour, seven-round marathon known as the NFL Draft.
Not that he hasn’t literally been sweating it out already…
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid,” said Belcher, the University of Maine’s standout defensive end and the Colonial Athletic Association’s Defensive Player of the Year. “It kind of is like being a kid the night before Christmas and trying to sleep.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, or if anything is going to happen.”
In order to maximize his chances to realize that dream, Belcher spent eight weeks at the TEST Sports Club’s training facility in Martinsville, N.J., to improve himself physically, nutritionally, and even mentally.
“Generally the players train with us 40 to 50 hours a week for eight weeks. They work to improve their speed, strength, condition, diet, and even psychological makeup,” said Brian Martin, CEO of TEST. “We also do biomechanical analysis.”
Biomechanical analysis? Martin says they try to leave no stone unturned in an effort to accentuate the chances of guys like Belcher to be drafted. NEST has only been in operation for three years, but he already has helped some smaller college players flourish in the NFL. Some of the bigger names among them are Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive tackle Ryan Clady of Boise State, who were picked 18th and 12th by Baltimore and Denver, respectively last year. Flacco was the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year and Clady was an NFL All-Pro second team pick.
“[Belcher’s] put on a bunch of weight and he’s thicker to take on blocks better without sacrificing quickness,” Martin said. “He came in at 228 pounds and is around 243 now, and probably 13 or 14 of those pounds are muscle. He’s a monster right now.”
A 6-foot-2 monster who hopes to get a chance to terrorize backfields as an NFL linebacker as much as he did as a defensive end for the Black Bears.
“He is a hybrid-type player, but I see him as a linebacker,” Martin said. “He’s a hand-off-the-round player and phenomenal pass rusher. He’s very comfortable with his hand on the ground, but equally with it off and that gives him an edge on blockers.
“Natural pass-rushers are generally guys who can’t take their hands off the ground without sacrificing their explosiveness, but he can.”
Patriots Football Weekly lists Belcher, who was timed running the 40-yard dash from 4.78 to 4.94 seconds, as the 20th best prospect among outside linebackers. NFL Draft Scout.com ranks him 39th among 193 outside linebackers and 503 out of 2,534 total prospects.
Belcher says he hasn’t read many scouting reports on himself. Belcher, who just wants to go to the best team offering the best fit for his talents, hasn’t read many of the scouting reports on himself and doesn’t pay much attention to the doubts about his size or ability to play at the next level.
“I can’t change it. If I could I would, but that just makes me want to work harder,” he said. “I don’t like to be satisfied because once you are, you get lazy. If you’re dissatisfied, you keep working harder and harder.
“All I know is I’m a versatile player on the field and I can play special teams, any position they want me to, and I’m a character.”
Although ESPN will start its draft coverage five hours before the first pick is made, Belcher’s watch-and-wait session will kick off around 4 p.m. He’ll be spending the weekend watching and waiting with his family in West Babylon, N.Y., but he’s not sure how he’ll be watching and waiting, or how much.
“I don’t know. I’ll probably going to be in a closet somewhere with my cell phone,” Belcher said with a slight chuckle.
He doesn’t expect to get a call on the draft’s first day, but could be picked in the fifth, sixth or seventh round. He’s had a private visit and workout with Cincinnati
“I think he’s a late round selection and it wouldn’t surprise me if he went as high as the fifth,” said Martin. “A private workout is always a good sign, especially for a small college player. The two most interested teams the last two weeks have been Kansas City and Baltimore.”
The New England Patriots, New York Giants and Detroit Lions have also shown interest.
Former Black Bears who have gone on to play and excel in the NFL like Stephen Cooper, Daren Stone, and Mike DeVito have talked to Belcher and helped him get an idea what this weekend, as well as pro camps, will be like.
Other Bears like Brandon McGowan, Mike Flynn, Kevin McMahan, Montell Owens, Lofa Tatupu, and Matt Mulligan with NFL experience are paving the way for Belcher and some of his teammates.
Other Maine players (and NFL teams who have shown interest in them) who have taken part in pro workouts and are hoping to at least get a free agent contract and invitation to rookie camp are linebacker Andrew Downey (Detroit), tailback Jhamal Fluellen (Giants), punter Kash Kiefer, and offensive linemen Ryan Canary and Chris Arnao.
They’ll all be making sure their cell phones are charged and on this weekend.
Hopefully, friends and family won’t be jamming the lines.
“Now that you mention it, I probably should talk to some people about that,” Belcher said with a laugh. “I hadn’t thought about that.”