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March 17, 2013

The University of Miami Pro Day, Interviews Included

by Max Strauss

Back in the day, the University of Miami students would not take part in the NFL Combine. They would tell scouts to come watch them run drills in their backyard, at their school’s Pro Day. The U had a swagger about them. Today, with Head Coach Al Golden, the University of Miami is continuing to develop and mature football players down in Coral Gables. I attended my first ever Pro Day, and I was excited for the opportunity to talk to future stars in this league. 

EventsBanners13There may be limited opportunities on campus for me to gather some interviews with NFL players, but I knew each college campus has a Pro Day. I attended the University of Miami, hoping that I would gather some interviews. Jacory Harris, Olivier Vernon, Travis Benjamin, and Sean Spence all showed up to support their former teammates. 

For the first couple hours, players were doing drills for scouts. It was interesting as players would run, and scouts would all mark down their times. It was a job interview, and players were competing against teammates, but also competing against the “numbers” of other players.

I didn’t get a chance to interview Brandon McGee or Kendal Thompkins, but I did interview a handful of players. The ones that I was fortunate to speak to, are in this graphic below:

HurricanesPRODAY1

Scouts in Attendance:

There were 30 of 32 teams represented. The biggest names for scouts were: Packers scout, and former Hurricanes legend, Alonzo Highsmith. In addition, Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland, and New England Head Coach, Bill Belichick were in attendance. The Miami Dolphins had eight people representing their franchise. Several teams (Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, New York Jets, New England Patriots) had two people there. There were some former NFL players that were in attendance for NFL teams as well. There were also two Canadian Football League teams in attendance… The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Montreal Alouettes each sent a representative down to Miami.

Onto the Interviews: 

One of the first players who was done was one of the biggest names at the Pro Day. Ray-Ray Armstrong used to play Safety at the University of Miami, but he was kicked off the football team. He is a lengthy defensive back that I feel in the right environment can be a great contributor, especially on Special Teams for any team in the NFL.

S, Ray-Ray Armstrong

Group : Is it weird being back here?

Ray-Ray Armstrong : Not at all. This is where I played at. I don’t feel weird at all.

Group : What was it like not being able to play this year?

Armstrong : I mean it was frustrating for the first couple of months, but I’ve put that behind me. I’m working on the next step in my life. I kept staying around football, around the game, and kept working out. It wasn’t too difficult the first couple of months.

Group : Will it be worth it if you make it to an NFL team?

Armstrong : Oh yes. That’s the whole goal. My goal is to make it to the NFL, and perform well.

Group : How would you describe your career at the University of Miami?

Armstrong : Well, it could have ended a lot better, but for the time I spent here, it went well. I got to know a lot of good people. I had a lot of good times and there were some bad times. I got over those things, and I’m moving on.

Group : What’s it like seeing the guys?

Armstrong : It was great. I still have a lot of friends here. We all have a tight bond. It was good to come back. I felt like it was home still, and I was enjoying it with my teammates.

Group : What do you feel you can bring to the NFL?

Armstrong : I am versatile. I feel like I could play two positions: safety and linebacker. I could play on Special Teams too. I bring a lot of aggression to my game. I feel like I can make plays.

Strauss : Was there a former player that you were training with that you think helped you out?

Armstrong : I was actually training with Brandon McGee the whole time in Boca Raton. He was down there as well. He helped me throughout this whole process.

Strauss : What did he help you with the most?

Armstrong : He helped me a lot mentally, and also training with me on the DB drills. He helped me with the small things like reminding me to stay low, keep your feet moving, never stop your feet.

One player I knew little about, but I was very impressed by his optimistic demeanor was former Canes S, Vaughn Telemaque. All the reporters asked questions that I was planning to ask, so I let them really conduct this interview, but I thought it was worth putting online.

S, Vaughn Telemaque

Group : How’d you feel out there?

Vaughn Telemaque : I felt really good to be back out there, back in Miami, back on this field.

Group : How was training?

Telemaque : I went back home and I was training. I got to be with family and with support and the coaching staff that I knew from high school, and just the people that encouraged me to keep going in the right direction.

Group : Was it nerve-racking at all today?

Telemaque : Yeah, it was nerve-racking. It’s also comforting though seeing all the previous players who you played with, and coming out here and joining them. You know you can do it, and that you’re capable of doing things that they’re doing. It felt good at the same time you get those nerves going, and it makes you perform better.

Group : Is it intimidating seeing guys like Bill Belichick out here… or a guy like Jeff Ireland?

Telemaque : It’s awesome! It’s what you want to be a part of. Because then, maybe you can catch their eye and do something.

Group : What type of player are you?

Telemaque : I’m an all around player. I am a team player and a range-y safety, and I’m a stand-up guy. I try to do the right things, and I try to make sure that everyone around me has a positive attitude. It brings out the best in everyone including myself.

Group : What has being a Miami Hurricane meant to you?

Telemaque : It has meant a lot. It is something that I can always take and carry with me. I can always say that it’s something I am a part of. Our basketball team is doing great. Whether it’s football, basketball, or baseball, we’re a great team, and whoever happens, that’s my team and that’s my school.

I was told by a few people in the Miami community that if there was someone who I should seek out, it would be Mike James. I was told that he is a class act, and that he is a worker, and he’ll find a way to make it in the NFL. I saw him, and I jumped on the opportunity to interview him.

RB, Mike James

Group : What did you want to improve on [from the Combine]?

Mike James : I wanted to improve my short shuttle, my L-drill, and just catching the ball. I just wanted to do it again.

Strauss : What’s it like to be back at Miami in an environment that you’re used to?

James : It was good. Today, the weather is great. I’m used to the field. But, it felt good to be back here, and I was glad to be able to enjoy it.

Group : Any feedback that you’ve gotten from teams?

James : Just keep doing what you’re doing, and everything will fall into place.

Group : What do you bring to an NFL team?

James : I bring versatility, a strong work ethic, and a great attitude. I am a responsible guy.

Next up was Thearon Collier who has a really interesting and unique story during his time at Miami. During his sophomore year, he had two punt returns, which is tied for fourth most in school history. He was kicked off of the team in 2010 before the regular season started though. He transferred to USC, but didn’t really garner much statistics or information. It’s the first time I have seen him back on campus, and he was here trying to make a name for himself.

RB/PR, Thearon Collier

Group : What was it like seeing some of your old teammates?

Thearon Collier : It was great seeing them. I was joking around with some of the guys, and some of the guys told me they missed me. I’m happy to see them successful though, and also to re-unite with these teammates.

Group : Do you know your times? How do you think did?

Collier : I was focused on going hard today. I was not focused on my time.

Strauss : What’s the biggest thing I want to improve?

Collier : I want to improve my speed. I feel like that’s the biggest thing at the next level. I really want to be able to compete and live up to that at the next level.

After Collier, I talked one-on-one with one of his former teammates, Ramon Buchanan. Buchanan appeared very invested and interested in pursuing his future in the NFL. He has had an interesting past as well, but he has learned from his mistakes, and has himself back on the right track.

LB, Ramon Buchanan

Strauss : What has been the most important thing for you to prove out here at the Pro Day?

Ramon Buchanan : I have to prove to teams that I still got it. No one has seen me play since my injury. I want to show the teams what I got and what I can do.

Strauss : Where are you in the recovery process of the injury?

Buchanan : I’m feeling pretty good right now. I feel like I gave everything my all today.

Strauss : Do you like being out here with your current teammates and former teammates?

Buchanan : Yeah. It felt pretty good seeing these faces and chatting with them out here. It was great asking them how did I do, and receiving their feedback.

Strauss : What’s the most important thing for you to work for the next couple months to prove to NFL teams to give you a chance?

Buchanan : I need to mentally stay focused, and gain a little bit of weight.

Strauss : What do you bring an organization?

Buchanan :  I bring a competitive work ethic. I would also say leadership. I can lead any team. I can put my point of views in, and show how people can learn off my actions, on and off the field.

Ramon Buchanan was nice to give me some 1-on-1 interview time. I could see him going in the 7th round. He posted a 10 foot 8 inch broad jump which shows his explosive-ness. He could be a stud on Special Teams at the next level. Marcus Robinson was up next. I wanted to make sure I stopped to listen into another interview with another Miami Hurricane.

OLB, Marcus Robinson

Group : Tell me about your year off, and what it’s like to try and start your pro career after the year off.

Marcus Robinson : Actually taking the year off, I think has given me a good advantage. Last year, I was not playing healthy during the season. I was still trying to give everything I got. Now, I actually had a good year off, and gave my body time to heal. Today made me feel that much better.

Group : What’s the most important thing to show the scouts out here?

Robinson : I still have the game in me, and I like to have fun. I want to show them I am confident in what I’m doing. That was the biggest thing for me today.

Group : How do you feel when you see guys like Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland and Patriots Head Coach, Bill Belichick?

Robinson : I treated every team like I was going out for a job interview. That’s how I had to treat. I felt good knowing that they think Miami still has the strong-caliber guys. It felt good.

Group : What was it like to see former teammates?

Robinson : It was great, but I work out here, so it felt good. It was good seeing them, and I valued their encouragement they gave me.

I really enjoyed hearing Marcus Robinson speak. I wish him the best of luck on his journey. The next was Jake Wieclaw who was just about to leave, but I caught him and asked him some questions before he did. I believe he went 2/3 for field goals beyond 55 yards.

K, Jake Wieclaw

Strauss : What’s it been like training?

Jake Wieclaw : It’s a lot of fun. A lot of people don’t look at it that way. Being in an environment that expects people to do well is more encouraging than anything else. When you see people that are successful, it makes you want to be successful, just like if they’re doing well, you want to do well.

Strauss : What do you think of your performance today?

Wieclaw : I thought I hit my field goals well.

Strauss : What did you think of [Punter] Dalton Botts’ performance today?

Wieclaw : I thought he did well. I thought he was kicking the ball well, hitting them well. He was putting them where they need to be put. I think today’s going to help him.

Strauss : Talk about the few opportunities there are to be an NFL Kicker…

Wieclaw : It all comes down to who is going to give me an opportunity. I feel like I am ready to take advantage of that, and whether the opportunities come up or not. I’m in a position where I am ready to take advantage of any opportunity that comes my way.

But, one player who just seemed to be having a lot of fun, and also a lo of success out there was former Canes Punter, Dalton Botts. There is one former Hurricanes Punter in the NFL, Matt Bosher who plays for the Atlanta Falcons. Botts really enjoyed punting for scouts from what I could tell, the Broncos, Rams, Chiefs, and 49ers.

P, Dalton Botts

Group : What did the scouts want to see?

Dalton Botts : For example, they told me directional, where to place it, inside the numbers or closer to the hash, whether to focus on hang-time, or if they just wanted me to kill it. They had me do specific things.

Group : Were you surprised that there were only two guys watching?

Botts : Oh no, not at all. I heard some negative things about Pro Days for kickers. I heard no one sticks around. I was like, “Okay, shoot. I hope people stick around.” There were also a couple people that wanted me to do stuff before. I did some stuff for the Broncos and the Chiefs as well.

Group : As a punter, obviously, some teams don’t draft a punter. What’s your mindset looking ahead to a potential NFL career?

Botts : My mindset is to be ready for anything. If I did get drafted, I’m ready to go. If not, hopefully I’ll get picked up later. If I don’t get picked up at all, I graduated with a degree from a great school at the University of Miami. I won’t be off too bad.

Group : What are you going to be doing for the next couple of months?

Botts : I will be working out with Jake [Wieclaw] and I. I’ll be hanging out with Coach Swasey in the weight room.

Strauss : What is the most important thing that you have done here, today, that you can take away and work on when you’re training in future weeks?

Botts : I would probably say how much that the teams wanted to see directional punts, and the distance. They wanted everything. They were like give me as far as you can kick, as high as you can kick, outside the numbers, or by the sidelines.

Group : Have you had any contact with former Canes Punter, Matt Bosher? Has he been around?

Botts : He gave me some balls. I only had three footballs, and he gave me four footballs. I don’t have to run back and forth down the field the whole time. I kicked with him on Monday, and he gave me some pointers, and I’ll take anything I can get.

Group : What was the scouts’ feedback?

Botts : They told me what to do, and I think I performed pretty well. When they told me what to do, they also followed the up by saying ‘Great job’. They seemed to really like what I can do. And, they said that they’ll be in touch.

I really enjoyed my first ever Pro Day. This would not have been possible without the University of Miami Communications’ Office giving me an opportunity to interview alumni of the University of Miami. It was great to be interviewing future players in this league.

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