There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2015-16 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight these players.
This week: KJ Mays, Rodrick Williams talk draft day preparation
KJ Mays, Rodrick Williams and several other now-former Gopher football players will be at their respective ‘draft parties’ this week. The three-day NFL Draft starts April 28, and these young men hope their names are called at some point in the process by a pro club executive.
“We put [in] all this work in the course of two months” after the college season ended, said Mays to the MSR after he worked out for pro scouts at Minnesota’s indoor football field in March.
The annual ‘pro day’ isn’t open to the public, but the media is allowed to watch the players get tested for speed, strength, agility and even jumping ability.
“You would think the vertical leap is something for basketball players,” explained local attorney Lee Hutton, who also represents athletes. “What they [pro scouts] are testing is how quick [the players] are off the ground when you are jumping in the air before you are going to tackle. You crouch down with your quads and your hamstrings to get that maximum push.”
“I thought KJ Mays looked really, really good,” continued Hutton on the wide receiver prospect. “Rodrick Williams played at 230 — he’s looking like a very slim 215. That’s very impressive.”
Confirmed Williams, a former Gopher running back, “When I went to training, they completely changed my whole diet. When I started training, I was 238. I weighed in today at 224.”
Both Mays and Williams latched on with personal trainers, the ones who specialize in preparing pro hopefuls for their ‘interviews’ with NFL folk in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Williams, for example, returned to his native Texas to train: “It’s about two hours” from his hometown, he said of the APEC training facility in Tyler, Texas. “It’s in the country. You work out twice a day, six days a week,” he pointed out.
Mays earlier this year talked to scouts from all 32 NFL teams at the Senior Bowl, he added. “They ask you questions about your character, how you grew up and if there were parents in the house. What makes you mad and what motivates you.”
“It’s basically a job interview — the way I see myself now as a professional athlete — so I have to give them a good first impression,” said Williams.
“Anytime you have NFL scouts and you are in contact with these guys, these guys have eyes on you,” continued Mays. “It is definitely an interview process, whether it is working out or just having a conversation. I felt I was pretty prepared when I [met] with teams.”
MarQueis Gray remembers his pro day experience several years ago: the former Minnesota quarterback wanted to show pro scouts his versatility, he told the MSR. “I wanted to show different aspects of each position, to show that I can catch the ball, run [pass] routes and have good blocking techniques. I wanted to be good at all three of these things,” recalled Gray, a four-year NFL veteran tight end who played for Buffalo the past two seasons.
“This is a job interview,” said Hutton on his typical advice he gives rookie hopefuls in their pre-draft preparations. “It will set the tone of their career.”
Finally, Mays and Williams will wait. Even if their phone doesn’t ring later this week during the three-day draft binge, they could conceivably get a call from a club to tryout. There are plenty of undrafted players who earned NFL roster spots ahead of some who were drafted.
“I’m at an advantage because I still have room to grow, and I am still learning about this [wide receiver] position,” concluded Mays.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.