ORONO, Maine — Gentleman, start your stopwatches.
And take your measurements, and run your drills, and test agility, strength, endurance and speed.
Friday was a day to try and turn a dream into reality for nine football players from the University of Maine and Husson University as they took part in a “pro day” workout session attended by NFL and CFL scouts.
“It’s always been a dream, but it became more of a reality a couple years ago when I started thinking this might happen, so I’m pretty happy about today,” said graduating Maine senior offensive lineman Tyler Eastman.
The Old Town native was the star attraction at the three-hour session that drew scouts from the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, and Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL as well as the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.
“This year, Eastman was the reason scouts came, but you never know what you’re going to see,” said Tom Gesner, a sixth-year scout in his first year with the Stampeders after five years with the Arena League’s now-defunct Albany franchise. “Last year, Andrew Downey stunned people with an incredible workout. The year be-fore, Anthony Cutrone surprised people and went to Jacksonville with a free-agent deal.”
This year’s breakout prospect could be either Maine tailback Jhamal Fluellen or defensive back Brandon McLaughlin.
“I don’t know if Tyler will get drafted, but I’d expect him to be in someone’s camp making some noise the same way Mike DeVito [now playing for the New York Jets after signing a free-agent deal] did last year,” Gesner said. “Brandon and Jhamal both had good workouts, but I can’t speculate who might have broken out today.
“We’ve got our eye on a couple guys who we think fit well in the Arena-type game. Fluellen is definitely a guy we like.”
The other six prospects in attendance were wide receiver Landis Williams, defensive lineman Jordan Stevens from Temple and quarterback-receiver Mike Brusko of UMaine and a trio — linebacker/safety Bobby Gilbert of Beaver Cove, receiver James Dobson of Berwick and defensive back Doug Blades — from Husson.
All the prospects were weighed and measured — heights, wingspans and even hand sizes were checked — and then put through a barrage of tests starting with the bench press (Stevens stole the show with 24 reps at 225 pounds).
Other drills and exercises included the vertical leap (Williams topped the field at 36 inches), the 40-yard dash, a shuttle run, an agility run drill around cones, and then individual workouts testing fundamental skills relative to the players’ positions.
“There were a lot of good things today. We look for a lot of things from players, but the most important thing we look for is the hips,” said Gesner. “Can they move their hips, backpedal and explode?
“You can’t really tell that from a 40 or shuttle run, but when you put them through individual drills, you can see it much better. And they don’t bring a bench press on the field, but it does gauge how much upper body strength you have.”
Most of the nine hopeful pro players admitted to a case of the jitters early on as the session started with weigh-ins around 8 a.m. at Latti Fitness Center.
“It was a little weird with an audience, but it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I thought it might be,” said Gilbert, who originally came to Maine to play before leaving the university and eventually attending Husson. “I think it helped doing the bench first because it helped work off some of that nervous energy.”
Eastman was a bit better prepared for the atmosphere.
“I played in the Texas-Nation game and it was kind of the same thing with all kinds of people standing around watching us practice,” he said. “I got a little taste of it down there so today wasn’t as bad.”
Many of the players will be attending other private and joint workout sessions.
“I’m going down to another combine in Pittsburgh Tuesday and I should run better down there,” said McLaughlin, who noted all the players’ times were slower on the Mahaney Dome artificial turf surface. “My agility work was good, but my times weren’t what I thought they’d be up here.”
Friday’s session marked the first time Maine and Husson players took part in a joint workout session.
“I started back in November with my teammates and we started with the Maine guys the second week of January,” said the 210-pound Gilbert, who shed 15 pounds to increase his speed.
Eastman, who weighed in at 310, also dropped some weight to improve his quickness and agility and it apparently helped.
“My big thing was speed, so I dropped weight. When I played in the Texas game, I was 323,” Eastman said. “I was happy with my running and I got personal bests in the jumps with a 29-inch vertical after 24 inches before and a broad jump of 8-3.”
Many of the players left with positive impressions.
“They came up and told me I did a great job and that I’d be hearing from them,” Eastman said. “We’ll see come April.”
The seven-round NFL Draft for amateur and college players will take place April 22-24.
For players like Gilbert, it doesn’t matter if the team he plays for has an “N” or a “C” in front of the “FL” as long as it’s a chance to play pro ball.
“My goal is to play the monster position in the CFL with 12 men on the field and you’re flying sideline to sideline,” he said. “That is my game.”