By Erica Brancato
"It takes passion, discipline and hard work to achieve success."
Those are the words of Mark R. Shenkman that are displayed in the Training Center at UConn that bears his name. Those word were even more applicable on Tuesday than ever before, as nine Husky seniors worked out for NFL coaches and scouts at the Huskies' annual Pro Day.
Working out was cornerback Byron Jones and wide receiver Geremy Davis, who both were invited to the NFL Combine in February, along with offensive lineman Alex Mateas, linebacker Reuben Frank, wide receiver Deshon Foxx, quarterback Chandler Whitmer, defensive lineman B.J. McBryde, offensive guard Gus Cruz and defensive lineman Angelo Pruitt.
Among the NFL officials in attendance at the event were a pair of head coaches -- Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles and Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings. The national media also took notice of the event as a crew from the NFL Network was there with reporter Kim Jones.
Byron Jones literally leapt to stardom after shattering the previous broad jump world record at the combine at 12 feet, three inches, while Davis used his consistent and dominant force on the field to remain a prospect to hopefully continue his career on the professional level.
All of the players working out during Pro Day expressed their gratitude to work out one last time together as Huskies and to be considered to play professionally. The players seemed prepared for their hopeful futures careers in professional football.
"This was the last time my teammates and I can be out on the same field together doing what we love and that's playing football," Jones said. "It's what we came here to do. It was a rough career sometimes, but we stuck it out together and it was nice to see those guys do well."
Jones used this day to prove to the scouts and onlookers that he was healthy and strong enough to play after a season ending shoulder injury, while Davis looked to continue to do what he has been doing his whole football career and demonstrate his speed. Jones and Davis both had impressive runs in the 40-yard dash, and Jones picked up 18 reps on the bench press, showing that his injuries are in the past.
"It is so surreal," Davis said. "Growing up you are like I can't wait to get to this moment. You know, praise God I got to the combine. That was so surreal for me honestly, like in reality, I have been doing this since freshman year. I used to come out here and run routes everyday. I just needed to keep telling myself, `man you have been doing this since freshman year...' and that's the mindset I had to have and I was happy I displayed and did well out here today."
Remaining confident and staying in the right mindset were huge factors for each player during Pro Day. Despite all of the hard work they have already put in with training, both Davis and Jones said it was vital for their mindset to be calm and confident. With repetition, diligence and practice, players said nerves weren't entirely a factor because they tried not to think about it; they simply played.
Jones said once you prepare as long and hard as they all did you come in confident. Jones and Davis used their opposing positions to help each other improve. Throughout their college careers and before the NFL Combine they worked together to motivate each other and become the best player they could be. Both Jones and Davis worked with each other to stay determined and train hard to ultimately succeed.
"It has been great because his work ethic is parallel to none," Jones said on Davis. "He's one of those guys who is always finding a way to get better at the receiver position and he helped me become better at the cornerback position because he worked hard and I had to match him."
With multiple prospects being looked at by the NFL and the Canadian Football League, this UConn program continues to strive for excellence. Last season, over 20 former Husky players were on active NFL rosters. Former UConn fullback Anthony Sherman, now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, was also on hand to support the Huskies.
"We are churning them out," Jones said. "All the guys in the league now are doing pretty well for themselves so I'm just trying to continue the lineage."
To alleviate the pressure of Pro Day, each player was greeted with friendly faces, as the some of the current football team was able to look on during drills. This support and familiarity is exactly what head coach Bob Diaco has instilled in this team. The strong culture and support from the team meant a lot to the players, as they were able to perform their best. With practice, training and hard work, each player was able to succeed during Pro Day.
"It was exciting," Davis said. "I miss the guys, obviously being with them four or three years, you know, you miss your family you are used to being around. So getting to see them again I was very happy. We all have been working hard for several months and just take what you have been working on and put it onto the field and I feel like everyone took advantage of the opportunity."