NFL hopefuls make first impressions at pro day

Former USF defensive end Eric Lee ran both defensive line and linebacker drills at Monday's pro day. USF's premeire pass rusher ran a 4.56 40-yard dash weighing in at 254 pounds. ORACLE PHOTO/JACOB HOAG

Football is no longer just a game for a group of former Bulls turned NFL hopefuls, it’s a business. And these 14 prospects participated in their first job interview Monday at the Frank Morsani Football Complex during USF’s annual pro day.

For this interview, a button-up shirt and tie were not required. Instead, skin-tight gray shirts with neon green lettering stretched over the bodies of these young, ambitious athletes as they attempted to leap, run and muscle their way into an NFL camp.

“After preparing for three months, there’s no room for error,” linebacker Eric Lee said following his workouts.

Joining Lee among the standouts were offensive linemen Thor Jozwiak and Brynjar Gudmundsson, as well as backup quarterback Steven Bench, who led the field with a 35 ½-inch vertical jump.

Jozwiak impressed the scrum of NFL and Canadian Football League (CFL) scouts that represented nearly 20 teams by notching a 30-inch vertical moments after weighing in at 319 pounds. Gudmundsson, albeit 18 pounds lighter, topped his former teammate by half an inch and bested the guard with an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 5.1 seconds compared to Jozwiak’s 5.19.

The former USF center also led all participants in the bench press with 26 reps of 225 pounds.

“You can prepare for so much, but when the time comes, you have to be able to go on cue with whatever they want and you have to be able to do it,” Jozwiak said. “That’s what professionals do.”

While Bench dazzled with a 4.55 40-yard dash with Lee nipping at his heels at 4.56, it was linebacker Tashon Whitehurst who drew gasps and rumblings from the cluster of scouts waiting at the end line, clocking an unofficial time of 4.5.

Whitehurst played virtually every position during his tenure at USF. He showcased his complete skill set with 22 reps in the bench press while also matching Bench’s mark of a 35 ½ vertical.

Lee, who weighed in at 254 pounds, participated in both defensive line and linebacker drills to show scouts he can play any position.

“Linebacker is obviously not my specialty, but that was to show I was versatile and willing to catch people’s eyes,” Lee said.

Safety Jamie Byrd, arguably USF’s top draft prospect, sat out most of the day with a nagging hamstring injury sustained during his training. The former Husky only participated in the bench press and vertical jump, where he posted 11 reps and a 31 ½-inch jump.

Byrd will join teammates Gudmundsson and Lee on April 15 in a local workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where his times and reps will be recorded.

Others in attendance included tight end Sean Price, who was at 100 percent after suffering a PCL injury in USF’s bowl game in January, running the 40 in 4.7 seconds and posting 22 reps in the bench press.

“Coming off the PCL injury after the bowl game and to come out here and not feel it at all gave me motivation throughout the whole pro day,” said Price, who was medically cleared only three weeks ago.

Price, who was hampered in his USF career by injury, began to come on strong for the Bulls late in his final season, catching five touchdown passes over the course of the season. Not the typical 6-foot-6 pass catcher that is becoming the norm in the NFL, Price still feels he can make a difference on an NFL squad.

Past players also took the field, including kicker Marvin Kloss and tight end Mike McFarland. Kloss and McFarland, of the Browns and Texans, respectively, had stints in NFL training camps last season, but found themselves out of a job before the season began.

Although none found themselves on any notable mock drafts with the NFL Draft just over a month away, they hope their performance Monday leaves a lasting impression on teams.

“My objective is to make it into a camp, drafted or undrafted,” said Jozwiak whose father, Brian Jozwiak, was selected seventh overall in the 1986 draft. “I just want to make it into a camp and prove to myself that I can play this game at the next level.”

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