In front of 30 NFL teams, a horde of family members and all of their teammates, several former Mississippi State players had the biggest job interview of their lives.
MSU's NFL Pro Day took place Wednesday morning, stretching into the afternoon, an opportunity for several Bulldogs to show their mettle to scouts from around the country.
Within a group of around a dozen, millions of dollars were on the line.
Guys like Johnthan Banks and Chad Bumphis had four years of game tape, but their last hurdle was proving to teams that they also have the necessary speed.
Banks, who ran a 4.61-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, managed to improve on his time significantly, being hand-clocked as low as a very unofficial 4.51, impressing scouts and possibly cementing his status as a first-round pick in April.
As he left the field at the Palmeiro Center, he was all smiles. He had even improved on a few other of his already-impressive measurables, as well.
Bumphis's day was similarly successful.
"I think they were a little surprised by how fast I ran," Bumphis said.
The slot receiver and four-year starter at MSU was unofficially timed in the low 4.5s and was particularly impressive in agility drills, clocking fast and smooth runs in the 60-yard shuttle, 3-cone and L-cone drills.
Even Josh Boyd, a 300-plus pound defensive lineman, managed to improve his times from the combine, as his stock has continued to grow since earning a late invite to the Senior Bowl.
Darius Slay, the fastest defensive back at the combine, chose to sit out most of the drills, but weighed in and tried his hand at the vertical and broad jumps.
Several other former Bulldogs took part in the action, as well.
Linebacker Cam Lawrence put on some weight and still moved well in front of scouts, while defensive tackle Devin Jones actually dropped a few pounds and worked out as linebacker. Jones had one of the more impressive days, timing out faster than scouts expected in most drills and having one of the longest broad jumps of those who participated.
Receivers like Chris Smith, Brandon Heavens and Arceto Clark got in on the action, hoping to catch the eyes of scouts, and all the receivers were catching passes from someone they know well: Chris Relf.
Relf himself is trying to get on a football team somewhere, preferably as a quarterback, but wherever they'll take him. He said he's talked with several Canadian Football League teams and is just trying to get into a CFL or NFL camp now, hoping to make an impression once he's there. He said he felt good about his 40-yard dash, saying it was in the 4.8-second range, and because he was the only quarterback at Pro Day (current players are prohibited from participating), he had plenty of opportunities to showcase himself, working with each receiver who went through drills.
Plenty more defensive players were showcased, as Louis Watson and Damien Anderson both worked with the defensive backs, then defensive linemen Dewayne Cherrington and Shane McCardell got in the mix, as well.
Cherrington, the biggest player there as a nose tackle, also had one of the more impressive stats as he put up 36 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
However, the whole day started before players even arrived.
At 9 a.m. in the team room, head coach Dan Mullen, strength coach Matt Balis and athletic trainer Justin Gremillion spoke in front of all the scouts in town.
"If you get one of my guys and they give you a hard time, call me," Mullen said. "I'll get it fixed."
Though, as he went on to say, the types of players he coaches and sends it to the world are not the ones who typically need reprimanding.
As business-like as he could be, Mullen stood at the front of the room and went down the list of players, telling the scouts whatever they wanted to know. What kind of person they are, if they have or haven't got in trouble, their strengths, their weaknesses, what makes them tick. Whatever was applicable.
He did his best to change the verbiage, but one phrase seemed to come up for nearly every player, as Mullen constantly referred to his guys as hard workers and high-character people.
That much became clear when he talked about Banks the Thorpe Award winner.
"When he has free time, he rides horses," Mullen said. In describing Banks' athleticism, Mullen said he was not only the emergency quarterback last season, but "probably would've been our best receiver."
Mullen went through the story of Slay, who had to go to junior college first and then only had a minimal role his first year.
The head coach said they moved Corey Broomfield in 2012 because they had to make sure Slay was on the field.
"He's just scratching the surface," Mullen said.
He did his best to be objective, forthright and honest, but when he got to one of his star players, he couldn't find much that wasn't positive.
"3.8 GPA, team captain, never had a discipline issue as long as he's been here. There's not one negative thing I can say about Cam Lawrence," Mullen said.
From there, the testing began, moving to the new weight room in the Seal Football Complex. In the expansive area, players were measured for height and weight, tested for various jumping abilities and observed as they benched as much as they could.
As Bumphis prepped for his broad jump, Banks stood next to him cheering and clapping.
Over at the vertical jump, Balis encourages one of his corners.
"Get high, Slay!"
"I'm trying," Slay said with a laugh.
Moving to the Palmeiro Center's indoor field on a cold day, former Bulldogs and current NFL players Vick Ballard and Charles Mitchell watched their former teammates run through speed drills, agilities and positional workouts.
As players stretched in groups, Banks jogged and stretched on his own to the side, headphones turned up and a million-dollar weight on his shoulders.
The 40-yard dash - his most important event - was the first one up. Knowing he had two tries, the crowd was loose on Banks' first run.
The second time Banks stepped up to the start line, the entire Palmeiro Center went dead silent. As Banks stood on the opposite end of the field, Mullen emerged from the crowd.
He held his hand up, walked down to his star, put his arm on his shoulder and whispered something in his ear.
The talk didn't last long.
Mullen stepped behind Banks, then watched as the nation's top defensive back ran the fastest time of his post-MSU career.
Once the athletic festivities ended, lunch was served, scouts chatted it up with players of interest and the footballs were put into bags, ending MSU's 2013 NFL Pro Day.
Mississippi State softball drove in four runs on five hits with two outs in an 8-1 non-conference triumph against Memphis Wednesday night at the MSU Softball Stadium. The victory improved the Bulldogs to 15-4 in 2013, tying the 2008 squad for the best start through 19 games since the Bulldogs began 17-1 in 2006. Memphis dropped to 7-13 on the season.
"We've done a good job of starting fast and winning the late innings," Head Coach Vann Stuedeman said. "We were so glad to be back in Starkville in front of our home fans. It was a nice, solid victory tonight."
Seven of the nine Bully Bomber starters had hits on offense, with juniors Erin Nesbit (1-for-2, two runs) and Jessica Offutt (1-for-3) both driving in two. Leadoff hitter Briana Bell (1-for-3, run) and cleanup hitter Sam Lenahan (1-for-3, run) each had RBI base knocks as well, while four more Bulldogs also tapped the dish.
"We always talk about getting barrels," Offutt said. "I think we were just working the process. We were constantly having quality at-bats and buying in."
Reigning SEC and National Pitcher of the Week Alison Owen of MSU was victorious in her ninth-consecutive decision, moving to 9-1 after 4.0 innings of shutout ball in her starting assignment. The righty struck out five and walked none to improve her national-best 93-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Junior southpaw Kylie Vry picked up her first save of the season, pitching the final 3.0 innings with one hit and one unearned run allowed.
For the 17th time in 19 games this year, MSU scored first, this time in the second inning. With one down, Nesbit reached first on a fielder's choice and sprinted to second on a passed ball. Sophomore Julia Echols joined her after drawing a base on balls on a full count. Freshman Loryn NIchols then loaded the bases with her first double-digit pitch at-bat of the game. With two gone and Offutt behind on an 0-2 count, the nine-hole hitter drilled a pitch to left-center field, scoring both Nesbit and Echols for an early 2-0 Mississippi State lead.
State tacked on five more runs to put the game away in the bottom of the third, which started when junior Heidi Shape was hit by a pitch. Shape moved to second on a single by Foulks, but was forced out at third on a ground ball to the left side by Lenahan. With two on and one out, senior Jessica Cooley took first on a 3-2 walk. That allowed Nesbit on a full count of her own to drive in Foulks and Lenahan on a hard-hit ball to shallow left-center field.
Following MSU's second out of the inning, Nichols had another 10-plus pitch at-bat to load the bases with her second walk of the evening. Memphis appeared to be out of the inning when Offutt grounded to second, but the Tigers' first baseman could not scoop a ball thrown in the dirt. The error by Memphis' second baseman allowed both Cooley and Nesbit to score, increasing the lead to 6-0 in favor of the home team. The last run of the third frame came when Nichols strutted across home thanks to a double to deep left by Bell.
After Memphis scored for the first time in the top of the sixth, Stuedeman's squad finished the scoring with a Lenahan RBI double down the left-field line. The two-bagger scored Bell and gave the game its final score of 8-1.
Starkville's Team now turns its attention to SEC play, which begins this Friday through Sunday as the Bulldogs battle No. 12 LSU at the Dawg Diamond. The Maroon and White play the Purple and Gold Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.
For live in-game updates of MSU's SEC-opening series, follow the program on Twitter at @MStateSB. For pictures, like the team on Facebook at Facebook.com/MStateSB and visit the team's Instagram account at MStateSB. For pregame and postgame video, check out MSU's official YouTube channel at YouTube.com/HailState.
A season of improvement ended on a disappointing note for the Bulldogs Wednesday night.
A difficult night making shots and a difficult night possessing the basketball led to trouble, as Mississippi State dropped a 63-36 decision to Alabama in an opening-round game of the Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament played at the Gwinnett Center.
MSU fell to 13-17 with the setback.
"Well, certainly have to take your hat off to Alabama," MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. "They played awfully well tonight. They 1-3-1 zoned us. Confidence is a fragile thing. I think for us, we got a little shaken with our confidence shooting the ball and got a little hesitant. They obviously took away our inside game, which has been our bread and butter most of the year."
Wednesday's tournament outing looked nothing like the regular season, where MSU recorded a 75-51 win in Starkville. In that contest, Martha Alwal, an SEC All-Defensive team selection and finalist for the Gillom Trophy, and Carnecia Williams combined for 43 points down low. On Wednesday, no MSU player reached double figures and the squad shot 22.6 percent from the field as a team.
"We had a tough shooting night," said guard Darriel Gaynor, the lone MSU senior. "We couldn't get anything to fall. We didn't guard or rebound very well, outside of Kendra (Grant). We didn't make shots and we didn't do a really good job of transition defense. Just a tough one."
Alabama (13-17) took the lead for good with seven straight points to break a 6-6 tie. The Bulldogs battled back to a 15-13 deficit with a 3-point basket from Katia May. The deficit was one at 17-16 after a Kendra Grant 3-point basket.
Alabama followed with another 6-0 run to create some breathing room.
MSU only made 6-of-30 shots from the field in the opening half, including a 3-of-16 performance from 3-point range. Despite the numbers, MSU only trailed 23-17 at halftime.
The Crimson Tide score four straight points to start the second half and quickly ran the lead to double figures. Alabama shot 38.2 percent from the field in the game's final half and did a much better job of taking care of the basketball, only making 13 turnovers for the game.
The Bulldogs trailed 39-26 after a Jerica James layup with 10:27 left in regulation. The Crimson Tide poured it on from there with a 13-3 run allowing them to take complete control.
"For us, it was a horrible shooting night, and we didn't play very good defensively, either," Schaefer said. "We didn't play the way we've been playing most of the year. I think the girls would agree. We had a little hangover (from a win over Georgia) in the first half at Auburn (a 74-65 loss Sunday).
"Tonight, you saw both halves of what we dealt with the first half at Auburn."
For the contest, MSU hit 14 of 62 shots from the field (22.6 percent), 4 of 26 shots from 3-point range (15.4 percent) and 4 of 9 shots from the foul line (44.4 percent). Alabama hit 22 of 64 shots from the field (34.4 percent), 3 of 17 shots from 3-point range (17.6 percent) and 16 of 22 shots from the foul line (72.7 percent).
Alabama held a 48-42 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 10 assists and 20 turnovers, while the Crimson Tide had six assists and 13 turnovers.
Grant had seven points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes for the Bulldogs. Gaynor paced MSU with eight points.
Alwal finished with six points, six rebounds and four blocks. She record 16 double-doubles this season, and her 292 rebounds rate as the fourth-most in MSU single-season history.
The Worthington, Minn., native registered 78 blocks this year, also the fourth-highest mark in program history. In addition to collecting her 500th-career rebound, Alwal also moved 20 blocks behind the MSU's career record with 160 on the year.
Alabama, which plays South Carolina in the tournament's second round Thursday, was led by 17 points from Meghan Perkins and 13 points from Daisha Simmons.
Despite the setback, Schaefer is proud of the strides from his youthful squad. Once 0-6 in league play, MSU finished strong, including an upset win over No. 11 Georgia on Gaynor's Senior Night.
"This team has achieved a great deal this year," Schaefer said. "I know you look at our record and think 13-17. But we had a lot of inexperience, a lot of youth and a lot of immaturity. One senior in Darriel, and nine out of 11 kids that had never really played college basketball. Every time we tipped it up this year, we started three starters that haven't played a lot in Division I'm probably as proud as any coach in the country in this team and what they've accomplished."