One day, nine scouts: Kendall James, UMaine teammates audition for shot at NFL

Posted March 24, 2014, at 3:56 p.m.
Last modified March 24, 2014, at 6:38 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Earlier this month, ESPN football guru Mel Kiper Jr. referred to Kendall James as, “the biggest sleeper of the mid-round corner(backs) group” for the 2014 National Football League draft.

On Monday, the former University of Maine standout may have further improved his stock. James clocked in an unofficial time of 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash during UMaine’s “pro day” event held inside UMaine’s Latti Fitness Center and the Mahaney Dome.

“I improved my [40-yard dash time],” said James, a Football Championship Subdivision first-team All-American who had run a 4.44 at last month’s prestigious NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

His second 40-yard dash on Monday elicited several raised eyebrows from scouts, who compared their stopwatches to confirm the low time.

James, who was described by Kiper as a possible fourth- or fifth-round pick, is the most highly touted of the 14 former Black Bears who participated. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder from Roselle, N.J., is trying to enjoy the notoriety.

“It [says] that they know that I’m available, that a kid from Maine is here to play football,” James said of Kiper’s comments. “It’s humbling, but it also keeps me hungry to keep working hard, and hopefully more people will notice who I am.”

An NFL lead scout and representatives of the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers were on hand to evaluate the UMaine players’ size, strength, speed, agility and coachability.

Tests included the bench press, vertical jump, 40-yard dash and agility drills.

“A lot of people aren’t blessed with this opportunity of pro day, so I’m real grateful for the opportunity and the amount of scouts that came out,” said safety Jamal Clay, who got positive feedback from some scouts. “It was just a fun process.”

UMaine’s other NFL hopefuls included safety Trevor Coston, a former Chicago and Detroit signee, and linebacker Donte Dennis, who last played for the Black Bears in 2012. Other notables were wide receiver Derrick Johnson, tight end Justin Perillo and defensive end Mike Cole.

Running back Rickey Stevens, quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, offensive linemen Joe Hook and Tyler Patterson of Rockland, linebackers Troy Eastman and Nicholas Cox, and defensive end Erwin Roach also went through the workouts.

“I was anxious leading up to this day just to come out here and show my talents,” said the 6-4, 250-pound Perillo, an All-American and an All-CAA first-team selection after making 39 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.

“Overall, it was a pretty good day,” he added. “I wish I ran the [40-yard dash] a little faster.”

Top performers in the bench press included Cole and Hook, each of whom did 24 repetitions at 225 pounds, along with Perillo (19) and Roach (18). Stevens soared to 35 inches to set the standard in the vertical jump, while Johnson hit 32 inches and Eastman went 31½.

Top honors in the standing broad jump went to Clay and Cox at 10 feet, 5 inches, followed by Johnson (10-2), James (10-0), Cole (9-7) and Stevens (9-7).

There is considerable pressure on the athletes, who have to put together their best efforts on a single day to make a lasting impression.

“You only get one shot to prove to these scouts what you’ve got,” Clay said. “If you don’t hit it right there and then, you feel like you’ve lost an opportunity.”

UMaine assistant strength and conditioning coach Daren Stone, who was a sixth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, tried to encourage the athletes to stay loose both mentally and physically.

“It’s just like a game, just focus on the task at hand and then find some type of way to zone out, relax, because when you’re tense, that’s when you make mistakes,” said Stone, who admitted it can be difficult not to get caught up in the moment.

The speedy Johnson, who made 60 catches for 608 yards and two touchdowns last fall, came away from Monday a bit disappointed.

“I wanted to run at least 4.3s, high 4.2s today, but I ran 4.44, so I’ll keep working,” said Johnson, who explained he has received interest from New England, Kansas City and Oakland.

“Hopefully I get a shot. That’s all I’m really looking for,” he said, adding that he will attend a regional combine in Maryland on Sunday.

James finished his senior season with 36 tackles, two interceptions and a blocked kick. He was named to the All-CAA second team after helping the Bears hold opponents to a league-low 165.4 passing yards per game.

He was bothered again Monday by a nagging hamstring injury, but fought through it. He is scheduled for workouts with the Jets and the Giants.

Looking back, James remembers being motivated by UMaine teammate Jerron McMillian, who played nearly two full seasons with Green Bay.

“I always knew that I was going to have a chance, and now I’m here, so we’ll see what happens,” James said.