Whitney Mercilus became a consensus All-American this past year as a defensive end for the Illinois football team. He was invited to the NFL combine and performed well there. He pushed aside any lingering doubts about his ability and potential at a recent Illinois Pro Timing Day.
"I felt like I did pretty good. I definitely got some good feedback from the coaches and scouts. They said I had a phenomenal day. They said everything I did was great and looked explosive and smooth. And I thought so myself.
"That's why I go through these drills. I was in shape, the best shape I'll ever be. I was able to come out and impress them."
Professional teams know what they want and study each prospect carefully before investing large sums of money on him. They pick apart every weakness. Prospects must prove themselves beyond a shadow of doubt. Scouts had some questions about Mercilus going into this process, but he feels he answered each one successfully.
"They questioned my explosiveness on tape and wondered if I had great hips and could change directions. I felt I had a few things to improve at the combine and here.
"I was able to show them that I was explosive, I could change directions quickly, I had great hips to turn. I definitely showed that in linebacker drills, d-line drills with bend and the variety of drills I showed them. I felt good about it."
Mercilus would be a defensive end in a 4-3 defense, but he'd have to convert to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He feels he demonstrated enough flexibility in linebacker drills to be draft-ready for both systems.
"I was pretty comfortable. I did a little bit while I was training out in Phoenix, Arizona. I was expecting to because there was a lot of buzz about it. I got prepared and looked pretty smooth at the combine.
"I thought I looked pretty smooth out there today also. And they said I looked pretty good and looked like a linebacker already. Whatever team drafts me, whether it's a true 4-3 and or as a 3-4 linebacker, I'll be able to play both.
"I probably play best in the 4-3 because I played my hand down all my life and never stood up. But wherever they put me, I'm ready to play it."
Mercilus was asked to sum up the entire draft preparation process.
"I have no words for it, I'm just ecstatic. Only so few go through it, and you're one of those selected to play in the NFL. That's just an awesome feeling. If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be 'exciting.'"
The Chicago Bears may be in a position to draft Mercilus when their turn arrives at the NFL draft. He says they have been in touch.
"The Bears talked to me at the combine, and I think they were impressed with me. We'll see. Hopefully we'll have a meeting in the near future, have me come there to visit them."
Several teams have scheduled private workouts for Mercilus. As of last week, the Bears hadn't yet pulled the trigger on a visit.
"I'll stay here in Champaign to work out and travel to the different teams to work out. So far, it's been the Bulls, Browns and I think maybe the Cowboys. We'll see."
Mercilus is remarkably relaxed as draft day approaches.
"I don't have any particular plan for it. I'm just a guy who goes with the flow, so I'll just take one day at a time and worry about what's going on in the present. I'll try to work in the present to set up the future. Once draft day comes around, I'll see where I'm at. If I get an invite (to the draft itself), that would be awesome."
While several of his teammates continue to fret about their futures, Mercilus knows he will be drafted. It allows him a level of confidence and peace of mind others envy.
"I'll just sit back, smell the roses and enjoy the ride."