ORONO — It seemed fitting that the final drills during Pro Day at the University of Maine involved Jeremy Kelley and Desmond Randall running a variety of pass patterns with either Black Bear football assistant Kevin Cahill or New England Patriots scout Ronnie McGill throwing passes to them.
Kelley and Randall, who are both from West Seneca, N.Y., have been football teammates since sixth grade.
They concluded their Black Bear careers in the fall and were two of seven seniors who participated in a variety of drills for McGill in the Latti Fitness Center and the Mahaney Dome from 8 a.m. to noon. Strength and conditioning coach Dan Nichol and Cahill joined McGill in running the drills, which also included the bench press, vertical leap, a variety of shuttle runs, the long jump and position-specific exercises.
The other participants were cornerback-kick returner Steven Barker, linebacker Mark Masterson, wide receiver Tyrell Jones, cornerback Dom Cusano and guard Matt Barber.
They are hoping to join an impressive list of Black Bear free agents who have earned spots on National Football League rosters.
That list includes San Diego Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper, whose eight-year career includes two seasons with more than 100 tackles (101 in 2009, 109 in 2007); Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, whose 84 tackles were fourth-best on his team this past season; New York Jets defensive lineman Mike DeVito, whose 59 tackles were good for fifth, and Jacksonville All-Pro special teams player Montell Owens.
“It has been a journey for (Des and me),” said Kelley. “We’re more like brothers than friends. We’ve always had each other which has made things easier along the way.”
“It’s good to go through something like this with somebody you know,” said Randall. “It makes it a little more comfortable.”
Kelley, a wide receiver by trade who was used on the defensive side of the ball last fall, and Randall, a wide receiver, have been roommates since arriving at Maine five years ago.
They worked out together in preparation for Pro Day.
In fact, Randall pointed out that this is their third Pro Day as they attended two near their homes. One was at the University of Buffalo and the other involved Canadian Football League scouts.
“It’s good to know somebody from back home who wants the same thing you want,” said Kelley. “Des’ father (Demaris Johnson) has been like a father to me and if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here. He has been our trainer through high school and college.”
Johnson was a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills who eventually became a pastor.
“We’ve learned a lot from him. He has had a lot to tell us and teach us. That has made it a little bit easier, too,” said Randall.
Randall and Kelley were pleased with their performances Thursday.
“It went really well,” said Randall. “I improved on a lot of things I did in the first two combines. I did exactly what I expected to do. You can always do better but it felt good. We were among the top two or three in everything in the first two combines and it was the same here today.”
“It couldn’t have gone any better,” said Kelley, who particularly shone in the vertical leap. “I just thank God because I didn’t get the best night’s sleep. I woke up every hour. I wasn’t nervous because we had already done two other workouts. I was excited. I like being on a stage like this. I woke up and prayed for two hours.”
Kelley said the two of them “turned a lot of heads” at the first two combines, particularly the CFL combine, and that was “reassuring because it gives you the sense you belong and have the capability to play at the pro level.”
Barker, who was a third-team All-Colonial Athletic Association cornerback in 2009 and a third-team kickoff returner this past fall, said he had trouble sleeping Wednesday night.
“It’s nerve-wracking but, at the same time, it’s exciting to get a chance to show off and see if you can play at the next level,” said Barker. “It was fun, it was fast and it was stressful but I’m glad I did it. I thought I did well. I improved in every area.”
Barker said the fact so many former Black Bear free agents have played in the NFL served as motivation.
“It makes you feel you have a chance coming out of a small school,” said Barker. “It’s a good feeling.”
Masterson called it “more nerve-wracking than people think.
“You know if you perform well, you’re going to have a shot (at a pro career),” said Masterson. “So you put more pressure on yourself than you should. The reward is you have a chance to show how you’ve grown the last four or five years.”
Masterson enjoyed the experience but he aggravated a hamstring injury during one of his 40-yard dashes and had to back off some other drills.
“I wish I could have done a little more,” he said.
Jones did most of the drills but couldn’t run pass patterns due to a minor leg injury.
“Being my first time, I thought I did a good job. But I could have done a lot better,” said Jones. “I didn’t think it would be this tiring. I’m exhausted. It made for a long day. But I’m happy with everything and I may go to another one.”
Barber sustained a season-ending knee injury early last fall and was very limited.
Cusano did virtually all of the drills including one when he was one-on-one with Randall, who was running pass patterns without the ball being thrown. Barker was paired up against Kelley.