TEMPE – Sun Devil football pro day allowed players from Arizona State and other schools to showcase their talents for NFL scouts ahead of the draft on April 27. For some, it was a second chance to further solidify numbers they showed at the NFL Scouting Combine, and for others, a chance to convince scouts why their dreams should be realized.
But for all, Monday’s affair was a final opportunity to come together as a group and appreciate the preparation that went into this day.
“It felt like a practice again, in some sort of way,” said running back Xazavian Valladay, who is affectionately called “X” by teammates and fans. “Being able to come back and walk through the facility and stuff like that, it was a blessing. It was an honor. Those are going to be my brothers for life.”
Added defensive lineman Nesta Jade Silvera: “These guys are guys that helped me get to where I am, and I wanted one last go ‘round with these guys. One last time on this field, in this practice facility. One last time with the guys was the biggest thing that I wanted to do.”
Throughout every workout, the Sun Devils hyped each other up. Take offensive lineman Chris Martinez’s bench press, for example. As he laid down on the bench, every athlete in the facility clapped and cheered him on. As the room finally fell quiet, Martinez started his reps. As the reps climbed, the encouragement became louder. Twenty reps in, the gym got louder, further amplified by Martinez’s family hollering from a balcony overlooking the weight room. Martinez finished with 28 reps of the 225-pound bar.
“That was the best part, having my family here,” Martinez said. “I’m blessed to have them all here. I’m thankful that they can come out here and support me, and it made it more fun for me. It took some tension off to know my family was there for me.”
The 28 reps were the highest of anyone at the event, but he still feels like he left a little bit on the table.
“It was alright, but I would’ve wished to get more,” Martinez said.
Many players walked away from the event confident in their showing, thanks in no small part to Joe Connolly, who’s the Head Coach of Football Sports Performance. This offseason, Connolly gave ASU’s players over three months of free training in preparation for their pro day.
“These drills for pro day are so specific, and the NFL is looking for the little nuances of every single drill,” Connolly said. “Typically, we don’t do a lot of the combine-specific drills in training, but we do drills that are a little bit more applicable to football, but there’s some carryover. It’s a good thing.”
One of the most important aspects of Connolly’s training leading up to Monday was holding the players accountable. They may not have wanted to hear the criticisms but knew applying the knowledge and advice would make them better players.
“Coach Joe, hands down, is the best strength coach I’ve ever had, number one in the nation,” defensive lineman Travez Moore said.
“He’s not going to steer you wrong, and he’ll keep it one hundred with you, even when you don’t want to hear it, and that’s what you need,” defensive lineman B’Ahmad Miller said. “You need a guy that’s going to always be real with you, and that’s going to push you every single day,” said defensive lineman B’Ahmad Miller.
“Huge shout out to coach Joe man, taking the time to train us man and get us right for this opportunity today,” fifth-year linebacker Merlin Robertson said.
Some performances may have come as a surprise to onlookers, but after training with his group of players over the last months, Connolly wasn’t surprised one bit. Many of the official numbers recorded by scouts coincided with what he witnessed during the offseason workouts.
“I just feel like it’s part of my job to provide them with everything that I can and to watch them show out on a day is great,” Connolly said.
In all, it was a bittersweet day. As the workouts and drills came to an end, the players took a group photo near midfield inside the Verde Dickey Dome at the Kajikawa Football Practice Fields. A tumultuous season that saw head coach Herm Edwards get fired, a win over a Washington Huskies team that finished the year eighth in the nation, nine losses the Sun Devils would rather forget, and now months of hard work leading up to the pro day, had all come to an end.
All left now is a phone call on draft night.
“We weren’t going out there to lose,” Silvera said. “We’re going to work every single week because we had an ultimate goal in our minds that we all know we’re going to do. We want to play at the next level. All these guys knew what we were working for all season, even though it didn’t go the way we’d like. It was a brotherhood that I’ll never forget and I hold dearly.”