Pro Day: Former Utes show what they can do in front of NFL scouts

1 Chris Samuels

In the comfort of their now-former facility, former Utah football players from last season’s 2015 squad received their chance to shine in the Eccles Football Facility in front of NFL scouts for this year’s Pro Day.

The players started off in the weight room, performing in categories such as bench press (225 lbs) and vertical jumps. Viliseni Fauonuku had the most reps on the bench press with 30, while Jason Fanaika followed with 29 and Jason Whittingham with 28. Kenneth Scott had the highest vertical at 38 inches; Whittingham topped out at 35, with Gionni Paul not far behind at 35 inches and Tevin Carter with 34.

There aren’t any official times for the 40-yard dash, as scouts were timing it themselves, but each player got a couple of shots to show what they could do. Carter had the fastest time, finishing the event in 4.48 seconds. Scott finished in about 4.64 seconds, while Kendal Thompson finished in 4.65. Again, all the times are unofficial.

Jared Norris, who finished the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.75 seconds, has been brushing up on a lot since the combine. He was able to take a lot of notes on what he needed to improve and felt as though he did just that Thursday morning. However, while these drills can be somewhat tedious, it is important to give a full effort and Norris wanted to show that he has taken all the little things to heart.

“When it comes down to it you’re not running a 40-yard dash, you’re playing football,” Norris said. “Just showing I’m out here to do this, but I’m a football player at the same time. I think it’s the confidence going into each drill and trying not to cheat the drill and just doing it.”

Norris thinks he performed better at Utah than he did at the NFL combine, but he is never satisfied and knows there is still plenty left to work on until the draft.

Former punter Tom Hackett did not compete in any of the above drills because he did not want to risk injury, but also because he simply did not want to do them. He knows for his position those drills do not really do much for him, so he wanted to stick to his usual routine.

Utah Sr. Tom Hackett (33) punts the ball in the game at Rice-Eccles Stadium where the UCLA Bruins beat the Utah Utes 17-9 on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015

Utah Sr. Tom Hackett (33) punts the ball in the game at Rice-Eccles Stadium where the UCLA Bruins beat the Utah Utes 17-9 on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015

“I wasn’t even considering it,” Hackett said. “Best thing that could have happened to me had I done that is I pull my hamstring running the 40, and then I can’t punt — no point in doing that. Plus I run like a penguin — everyone knows it — so I’m not going to do a show of it.”

Hackett and a handful of other players who were competing, like Norris, think they performed better in Salt Lake City because of the familiarity and their comfort competing alongside their former teammates. It was also due to the fact that they got a good night’s rest, as opposed to when they were in Indianapolis and had to be up at 5 a.m.

“Sleep in your own bed the night before, wake up and have six shots of coffee and away we go,” Hackett said. “Choose what you eat for breaky, and you’re in your happy place. I’ve come on this field thousands of times and just come out and do what I do best.”

Former Utah star running back Devontae Booker did not participate in any of the day’s drills because he is not at full strength. He is still working on rehabbing the season-ending injury he sustained while playing for the Utes towards the end of last season and will have his own pro day at his former high school in Sacramento in a few weeks. After watching all the players compete, he is eager to show what he can do too.

While an injury typically hurts a player’s draft stock, Booker is positive that his work on the field will erase any doubt a team might have if they do choose to draft him in late April. He also thinks that his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield gives him a slight edge over some of the other running backs.

“Honestly, to me, they don’t really care if I’m hurt or not,” Booker said. “This was really my only first injury I’ve ever had. The durability is there for me, and they know that as well. Just doing all the things I need to do out there on the field and doing them at a high level.”

The NFL Draft will be held April 28-30.