NFL Aspirations

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In the competitive world of professional sports, first impressions are critical, which is why Tuesday's Pro Timing Day at North Carolina served as an intense opening interview for five Tar Heels who are hoping to extend their playing careers beyond the cozy confines of Chapel Hill.

"Whenever I'm ready for something, I just think about it," defensive end Hilee Taylor said. "I didn't sleep well last night, just anticipating this moment, because it's something that I've been working at all of my life, and it's here now. So I just wanted to give it my all, and I think I did that. Overall, I'm pretty happy with how I did."

Taylor joined defensive tackle Kyndraus Guy, deep snapper Ryan Baucom, deep snapper Michael Murphy and kicker Connor Barth in auditioning for NFL scouts under overcast skies at Navy Field. Kentwan Balmer and Durell Mapp recently participated in the invitation-only NFL Combine, and they decided to not work out on Tuesday. Instead, they are planning to work out again for scouts on campus on April 1.

The players – joined by three North Carolina Central football team members – participated in a variety of drills, ranging from the 40-yard dash to the 20-yard shuttle to the L-cone drill.

Taylor's athleticism stood out above the rest, with his combination of speed and size providing an impressive performance. The Laurinburg, N.C. product was clocked in the 4.5 range on his 40-yard dash.

"I've been anticipating this for two months," Taylor said. "I've been down in Florida working out, and never once ran the [40-yard dash] 100 percent… So I was just ready to let it all loose."

Taylor entered Tuesday's workout with a desire to prove to the scouts that he had the lateral speed necessary to move to the linebacker position, if needed.

"A lot of them were saying that I had straight-ahead speed and I didn't really have hip movement because I played defensive end and didn't play linebacker," Taylor said. "That was where they were questioning me and hopefully they can [now] take that question out of their heads."

North Carolina head football coach Butch Davis' NFL experience has paid dividends in preparing his players for the rigors of getting to the next level.

"As soon as Coach Davis got here last year, we were doing combine drills and NFL-type drills to get us ready for today and to get us ready in general for the football season," Taylor said. "A lot of those drills are incorporated into the game. It's a lot of hip movement, quick feet [and] reacting – every drill is [fast]."

The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder has heard a wide range of possibilities in his draft status, starting with third-round talk and ending with free agency. He plans on watching the NFL Draft on April 26-27 at home with his parents and his brother.

"I don't care where I play in the NFL, as long as I'm there," Taylor said.

Barth's workout was not nearly as intriguing as his teammates. Rain prevented the Wilmington, N.C. native from kicking for the scouts, and since the NFL has no interest in how fast a kicker runs the 40, Barth's timing day highlights included height and weight measurements and the Wonderlic test.

But the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder was able to work out for one team in particular on Monday afternoon.

"I actually worked out for Seattle yesterday for the special teams coach, Bruce DeHaven," Barth said. "I had a very good workout, I think – very productive."

The record-setting kicker spent most of his offseason working out at Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth, Ga., but returned last month to prepare for Tuesday's activities. He's currently unsure of where he stands on the various NFL draft boards across the league.

"I have no idea, honestly," Barth said. "With kickers, it's so tough because there's only 32 of them in the league – only one on each team. I know Seattle has shown a lot of interest and hopefully some other teams will, but for now, I'm just trying to go out there and do what I can do and try to impress whoever I can."


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