FORT WORTH – TCU football head coach Gary Patterson has seen his team produce plenty of high-billed talent over the years. Among them – former wide receiver Josh Doctson and former quarterbacks Trevone Boykin and Andy Dalton; all of whom could be spotted on the sideline Friday as the Horned Frogs hosted their annual Pro Day at the Sammy Baugh Indoor Practice Facility.
This spring, there isn’t exactly one TCU player that generates the same attention that the trio of Horned Frog greats did in their respective years, but that didn’t keep scouts from 25 different NFL franchises from stopping in Fort Worth as draft day quickly approaches.
And the secret to that attention for TCU: a proven ability over the years to make the most of all talent, whether it be a Heisman contender or a transfer.
“I think where you judge a program is how you find a way to give an opportunity to a guy who could be a fourth through seventh round pick,” said Patterson. “That’s why the NFL guys come back even when we don’t have any star names this year – for the simple reason that there’s always going to be a couple of guys at TCU who can develop into somebody that can make their roster.”
That was exactly the mindset for the nine TCU players who showcased their talent through a series of drills Friday morning: Ja’Juan Story, Deante Gray, Kenny Iloka, Aviante Collins, Derrick Green, Denzel Johnson, James McFarland, Josh Carraway and Aaron Curry. Drills included the 40-yard dash and 60-yard shuttle on top of multiple position drills.
“We have a lot of guys who are under the radar and most of them are used to that,” Carraway said. “I feel like some of those guys work better – nobody is putting all the pressure on them.”
Carraway considered himself to be part of that low-lying group, despite being one of several TCU players invited to the NFL Combine earlier this year. The defensive end, who recorded 49 tackles for the Frogs in 2016, only partook in position drills Friday morning.
Only playing into the “under the radar” approach, Patterson said that Carraway was a rather unlikely but incredible recruit for TCU, playing a huge role in Fort Worth the past four years.
“As a junior in high school he was around 5-foot-ll and then by the time he was a senior he grew about five or six inches,” Patterson said. “We liked the way he moved around and his intelligence – it was a great gift for us.”
In that same group of underrated players with a promising outlook in the draft is outside tackle Aviante Collins, who earned an invite along with Carraway to the combine. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. listed Collins as one of his 15 “risers” in the draft.
“This is your one opportunity to show what you’re made of,” Collins said. “I know I was a little shy at first, but once we all got in our grooves we all had a good day.”
Collins made headlines at the combine when he posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.81, the third fastest time by an offensive lineman in the event’s history. A fifth year with the Frogs may have been the difference maker in developing into NFL-caliber player too.
“The greatest thing about Aviante is that we gave him a medical fifth year and now he has an opportunity to get drafted,” Patterson said. “He won’t play tackle, but with a guy that size and the ability to run like he does, maybe special teams or center guard.”
Regardless though, the recognition from the pros is there. Collins said he partook in private workout with the Atlanta Falcons.
Collins and Carraway weren’t the only players to excel in different drills at Pro Day. Story and Gray finished as the top two performers for the Frogs in the 40-yard dash, posting respective unofficial times of 4.37 and 4.34 seconds.
Gray, who spent time on both offense and defense in 2016, finished the season with 10 catches for 119 yards. Gray was responsible for eight touchdowns and 582 receiving yards in 2014 before missing 2015 due to injury.
“Being out a year and a half – he ran well today, but when you’re his size you have to have wiggle, toughness and be able to play special teams,” Patterson said. “He was a gunner for us on punts, and those are the kind of things these guys are looking for out here today.”
Gray was the lone non-senior among the nine participating players.
With Pro Day now in the past and the draft now looming on the horizon, players are ready to simply enjoy the moment – with the potential of joining a long fraternity of TCU players to rise up out of nowhere to greatness.
“Nobody really knows what to expect,” Carraway said. “I’ll just be waiting for that phone call.”
The NFL Draft is set to take place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from April 27-29. Four Horned Frogs; Doctson, Joey Hunt, Derrick Kindred and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, were drafted in 2016. Boykin and former running back Aaron Green were signed as undrafted free agents by the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams, respectively.