Big city lights, limousine pickups, dapper dress and an auditorium filled with fans across the country, accentuate the thrills of being in attendance on opening night of the NFL Draft.
Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Southern California, among other universities, highlight the prestigious night, as many prospects affiliated with the institutions wait to hear their names called.
A select group is invited to attend the first round ceremonies, as they are projected to be selected early in the process. Hearing their name called by the voice of the commissioner followed by adjusting their new team’s cap as they arrive on stage and then either casually greeting their new boss with a handshake or cradling him as they relish the moment, draft night is a big deal.
“Everybody has the same dream,” Zach Pascal, former Old Dominion wide receiver, said.
With the same dream, doesn’t always come the same process.
There will be 253 players drafted in the last weekend of April and those players will range from being selected from the national champions, Clemson (enrollment: 23,406), to Bucknell (3,624).
As for the players from Clemson, there’s no lack of exposure. TV deals, the notoriety of the school and success of the program scream attention.
Not all, if any, of those qualities can be said about many other programs that players will be appointed from.
The draft can create opportunities for the players that stem from lower-level programs or those that get overshadowed by bigger-named players on prestigious teams.
Above all, professional football scouts are told to grade the player not the helmet.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
A 6-foot-7, 318-pound offensive lineman doesn’t go unnoticed often and that’s the case for Julie’n Davenport of Bucknell.
Davenport did not receive one Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) offer coming out of high school, but NFL.com currently has him pegged to be a top 100 pick.
“It’s definitely great that people think of me that highly,” he said. “I don’t really think about it or talk about it that much, but it’s great to be noticed in the top 100.”
Davenport is part of the first football recruiting class to be rewarded with scholarships at Bucknell and he is impressed with the direction of the program with his NFL attention helping it out.
“It shows that the program has the potential and is growing,” he said. “It shows [that] the program is on the up and coming.”
According to NFL.com, Davenport’s size, length and athleticism are his best attributes when being projected to the league.
“[He] possesses elite arm strength and hand size for the position and can unravel his arms and stick them into the chest of a frustrated edge rusher,” Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote.
Davenport has 36.5-inch arms (longest among offensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine).
“It’s definitely a great attribute to have,” he said. “Sometimes [they] can’t even get their hands on me. When I throw my hands, I got a nice, strong forceful punch.”
“When they can’t reach it, it kind of leaves them in the dirt and they don’t know what to do,” he said.
Davenport credits his high school basketball experience for giving him the athleticism NFL teams have begun to covet.
“Playing offensive line, pass protection is definitely like you’re guarding a defender on the basketball court except you’re allowed to use your hands,” he said. “You got to be athletic to stay in front of your defender in the run game, and athletic enough to get back and work the defender off the edge [in the passing game].”
The four-time All-Patriot League player and 2016 All-American, looks to have his name called on the second day (rounds two and three) of the NFL Draft.
“I’m ready for the next level,” Davenport said. “I’m ready to thrive there.”
HEART OF A CHAMPION
Not all prospects are blessed with the athleticism and stature of Davenport. Those players in return can get shut out from even being mentioned by NFL organizations because not meeting a certain height-weight threshold.
Ricky Jones (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) of Indiana knows he doesn’t meet that desired criteria for being an attractive prospect. He wants to be measured in a different way.
“Can you measure heart?” Jones said. “That’s all I can say when they (NFL) talk about height and weight.”
Jones prides himself on his work ethic, hopeful it serves as a trump card for evaluators.
“I wasn’t blessed with being 6-foot-3 or anything like that, or super-blazing speed,” he said. “My big thing was being mentally and physically the toughest guy on the field and that comes with work ethic.”
Jones’ goal at Indiana was to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a single season. Though he fell short of that resolution, Jones racked up 1,754 yards in his final two seasons on 107 receptions with eight touchdowns.
Before he strung together back-to-back 50-catch seasons, Jones had to overcome an early ankle career injury that he gives credit to making him a better person and player.
“With the injuries, I had a setback,” he said. “I had to learn how to be a mature adult and how to actually grow and learn from my coaches and my peers. It taught me a lot about myself. It helped me become who I am today.”
Rumors were swirling around the Indiana football program in 2016 after reports questioned the leadership style of the former coaching staff.
Jones didn’t let this become a distraction for his team.
“I was more of a lead by example [player],” he said. “I showed that through my performance. If we teach each other to love each other, why would we not fight for our brother?”
With a dream as big as his smile, Jones’ love for the game is evident.
“I’ve always had the dream of playing football,” he said. “I get fired up talking about it.”
Old Dominion has only been a FBS program for three years and Pascal has been a part of all three seasons.
As he departs from the program, Pascal is the leader in all-time receptions (233), second in receiving yards (3,193) and third in touchdowns (30).
His accolades speak for themselves, but he is ecstatic to be a part of Old Dominion’s first bowl win in school history.
“It hasn’t hit me yet that we were the first team to make a bowl, to win a bowl,” he said. “And now I’m the first player to get to the combine.”
Pascal was one of 58 wide receiver participants to test at the NFL Scouting Combine. Though he didn’t reach the pinnacle of results compared to others in the group, he performed well and was grateful for the experience.
“[It] was real cool,” he said. “The experience itself was cool being around a lot of scouts and being in meetings. I’ve seen some head coaches that you see on TV but never thought you would be able to be on that stage.”
It was a dream for Pascal to be successful on the college football stage at a high enough level to be mentioned with the top-tier talent at the scouting combine. He did just that.
“Growing up as a kid, I dreamed to be at the combine and being able to perform,” he said. “It was a blessing.”
Though Pascal is now in charge of marketing himself, he still takes pride in what the Old Dominion football program has become.
“It’s (being invited to the combine) really big for the program just knowing where the program started,” he said. “Going from the CAA (Colonial Athletic Conference) to the Conference USA and now having its first bowl victory, this is very big. The word is coming out about Old Dominion, and I’m just trying to do my best and to represent that school.”
Pascal uses the small amount of exposure to drive his motivation to succeed.