Clay Nurse had a productive career as a defensive end at Illinois. Limited somewhat by a couple shoulder surgeries, he helped stabilize the defensive line and provided excellent leadership. He was one of eleven Illini trying out in front of pro scouts on campus recently, and he felt good about his performance.
"I felt like it went pretty well. Coming out here in front of all these guys, it's like the journey is coming to a full circle to a certain extent. I felt pretty good with my workout today. I'm happy but I'm not content. So I'll get back to work."
Given his shoulder problems, it was not surprising he didn't put up huge numbers lifting 225 pounds of weight.
"I did 20 reps. It's below what I wanted, but it's already on paper, so you've got to live with it. I was happy with it when I did it, but it shows I've got a lot more room for improvement."
Overall, he felt it was a great experience for him, his teammates and the school. He's letting his performance on the field be his calling card.
"We received good coaching here at the University of Illinois. We put our work out on the field. This was good for some guys that probably didn't put out as extensive work.
"To have all the coaches in here, and to have all the guys do such a great job, it helps everyone. It helps the family and the school because this is a great recruiting tool for us. This is how you build powerhouse schools."
While likely not a high draft pick, Nurse felt no pressure to perform.
"If you're prepared, if you've done the work, run the laps, did the drills, did all the lifting, there shouldn't be any pressure out here. You should come out here to have fun, and that's what we came to do.
"We supported each other, gave each other high fives and got each other up. I think everybody put in a good performance today."
The Maryland native was asked what kind of pro he would be.
"I think I'll be the hardest working one out there. If you get the opportunity to get to that level, you can't short-change yourself. Work, work, work. And when you're done working, you might as well work some more."
Nurse has had feelers from several teams and already has some pro workouts scheduled.
"I have two visits lined up. My agent hasn't told me with who because he just wanted me to focus on this phase of what's going on. I'll have a conversation with him and find out where I'm going. I'm enjoying the ride."
There are plenty of prognosticators eager to handicap the draft, theorizing who will be drafted where and when. Nurse ignores them entirely.
"I've stayed away from the noise, I've stayed away from the projections. I've stayed away from it because it's meaningless until draft day."
Looking back, Nurse was pleased with his senior season. He and a small but hearty band of seniors led the Illinois team to a winning season and Texas Bowl victory. Those are memories he will always cherish, especially with the way the Illini dismantled Baylor.
"Of course. It's the best feeling in the world, especially going out against a team like Baylor. They felt like their speed was better than our speed, they had tougher guys, like they're the better team. So we went out and did what we had to do.
"The quarterback said he didn't expect to lose. When you have a d-line like we had and defense like we had, you don't ever light a fire under our ass. We already have a fire, so we're gonna come get you. It's that simple. That's how we were built, that's how our d-coordinator felt. He shouldn't have said anything."
Baylor's offense was similar to Michigan, especially given the running and passing talents of their quarterbacks. The Illinois played passively and poorly at Michigan, in large part because they were overly worried about quarterback Denard Robinson's great speed. They learned their lesson and attacked the Baylor quarterback.
"Exactly. We went into the game saying, 'Forget the quarterback. We're going to beat Baylor.' It's no more this guy does this, this guy does that. We wanted to beat Baylor."
Regardless what happens in the draft or afterward, Nurse will be an Illini for life. And he will be successful at whatever he does.