The National Football League goes through an extensive evaluation process prior to each draft. A large amount of money and future success is at stake, so they want to make no mistakes. When a player is especially talented, he must be scrutinized even more closely to guarantee he's worth his large contract.
With former Illinois football stars Corey Liuget, Mikel Leshoure and Martez Wilson all possible first day draftees, a large number of pro scouts were present to watch them and their graduating teammates go through their paces.
Liuget was especially popular Wednesday. Now listed as a possible high first round draft pick, teams wanted another look at the talented Illini defensive tackle. While he was excited about the turnout, he was eager to share the limelight with his teammates. He also put in a plug for his college team.
"It's a great feeling. They were here to watch myself and my former teammates. I lived through blood, sweat and tears with those guys, so it was great to see us all out here.
"There's a lot more talent that's coming out of here. It's a chance to show them that Illinois is a gold mine, and we're gonna surprise a lot of people."
That is a sincere feeling as Liuget considered strongly returning to the UI for his senior season. He loves the school and wants it to gain national prominence in football. But the forces pushing him to the NFL and a big payday were enough to sway him to apply for early draft status.
With the decision made, Liuget has dedicated himself to getting in top shape to make a great impression with NFL scouts. He was pleased with his performance Wednesday.
"Today was great. They came out here to see if everybody was in shape and working out. I was definitely in shape, and I impressed them. I showed them I have never taken a day off.
"I just wanted to come out here and do the drills to the best of my ability, show that I have acceleration. And my hip flexibility is great. I definitely felt like I did great."
He had already done a number speed, agility and strength drills at the NFL Pro Combine, so he decided not to repeat them on campus.
"It was all a feeling for me. I was happy with my scores at the Combine. Most defensive tackles didn't get the numbers that I got. So I was pretty happy with it."
Among the pros at the tryout was New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who observed Liuget carefully.
"I love Coach Rex," Liuget admitted. "I definitely spoke with him. He's definitely a comedian, he's a funny guy. He asked me if my last name was Ryan."
Liuget was worked out by Rod Marinelli, the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Liuget was impressed with the attention.
"Wow, this is insane. For one of the best defensive line coaches to be here telling me what to do on the drills was great."
There also were a number of media who report on pro football teams at the event, including Chicago and St. Louis among others. They were eager to interview Liuget, who might be playing for their team next season.
They asked Liuget what type of defensive tackle he considered himself.
"I did it all. I did 1-technique, 3-technique, 5-technique, whatever the coaches needed me to do. The majority of the time I was 3-technique. I'm aggressive, get upfield, win games and championships."
They asked him if teams had talked with him about playing an end in a 3-4 alignment.
"Yes. I most definitely could do that."
Liuget was complimentary of his Illinois training as preparing him well for the pros.
"It was an everyday grind. You had to come to work every day whether you had a broke ankle or broke foot, you came to work and did the best you can."
When Liuget pondered whether to enter draft, the NFL Advisory Board told him third round. He was asked why he thought the NFL now sees him as a likely first rounder.
"I think they went back and watched a lot of film and said, 'Hey, this guy's got 1st round ability."
From humble beginnings, Liuget marvels at his present situation.
"Of course it feels good. From me playing football in the street when I was younger, and now I've got a number of NFL teams after me. It's a dream come true."
NFL management and players presently are at an impasse in their contract negotiations. Until financial issues are resolved, rookies like Liuget must be patient and wait until they can sign with a team and begin drawing a paycheck.
"I don't worry about that. I just keep working and staying in shape. I was in Boca Raton, Florida, and then I came up here to work out. I'll stay here, fly out to whatever teams want me to work out, and come back here."
Like his choice of colleges, his favorite teams growing up demonstrate a blend of South and North.
"I grew up a fan of three teams, the Bears, the Packers and Miami. I'm from Miami, so we love those teams. And the Bears and Packers have a great rivalry. It was always a great game between those two."
He has heard from a number of teams, and he has workouts scheduled with several of them. But due to the present lockout, he can't discuss specifics.
"I've spoken with a number of teams, and I feel very comfortable. I have some workouts set up, but I can't tell you those. Sorry."
Liuget has been projected as high as the 15th draft pick. He would have no problem traveling to New York for the draft if asked.
"If I get in the top 15, it's a dream come true. I'm just happy and blessed I have this opportunity. I will be there if I'm invited. I'd love it. I definitely would go."
Wherever he is drafted, Liuget will be missed at Illinois. The Illini will miss his athleticism, but they will also miss his intelligence and leadership. Regardless, he will be an outstanding representative of the University and will likely have a long pro career. After all, what pro team wouldn't want a player who says the following:
"I think I can have an immediate impact, as long as I get with the right guys and don't lose focus on where I'm headed out of life and the game of football. I'm just willing to do whatever helps the team win a championship."