USA Today Sports/Snook

For Coug River Cracraft and his left knee, an NFL future is riding on 13-hour days in Irvine, Calif.

FOR A GUY WHO tends to eat football for every meal, the waiting is bad enough. But the daily sight of Mitch Trubisky (perhaps the top QB prospect in April's NFL draft) throwing passes to Cooper Kupp and Chad Hansen (two of the top 12 projected receivers in the draft) seems to be an extra dose of cruel. Yet River Cracraft perseveres.

The second-most prolific receiver in the history of Washington State football has been in Irvine, Calif., rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee, since the lights went out at the Holiday Bowl. He's there with other NFL aspirants who signed with the Rep 1 Sports agency.

Cracraft recently hit a benchmark in his recovery, running straight ahead on a tread mill. The next milestone, roughly four weeks out and at the 16-week mark since his surgery, will be cuts and side-to-side movement.

“Anybody you talk to who has a significant injury, they’ll say the same thing: it’s a lot of waiting and will test your patience, for sure,” Cracraft told CF.C recently.

“It’s different with an ACL in that it’s kinda frustrating that the harder you work, it doesn’t just get better during those first 12 weeks."

Staying mentally tough, overcoming the frustration, is key to success.

“The rehab, the work -- River has tackled that with no problem," says Nima Zarrabi of Rep 1 Sports, the agency Cracraft chose to represent him in his NFL quest. "The hard part, and that was one of the first discussions we had with him as he got here" was staying mentally tough while other clients, like Trubisky and Kupp, are on the field doing what they love.

"If River hadn’t gotten injured, he would have been in that same group,” adds Zarrabi, himself a WSU graduate.

As he was on the field at WSU, where he caught 218 passes -- the most in school history this side of Gabe Marks -- Cracraft is all business at Rep 1 Sports. A typical day for him runs from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. He fills it with weight training, film work, meetings and catching balls out of the Juggs machine. He takes one day off a week.

“They say everything should be fully healthy and recovered not long (after week 16),” Cracraft says. “I’d say there might be a chance to be ahead of the game once I get around the 16-week mark but there’s not a lot you can do the first 12 weeks -- you just have to wait for that bone graft to heal.”

Cracraft tore the ACL in Week 10 at home against Cal. He was having a monster game, grabbing 9 Luke Falk passes for 87 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Cougars’ 56-21 victory. The injury happened on the last of those grabs, in the third quarter, on a play that looked pretty routine on the surface. After he was helped up and started limping toward the locker room, it was pretty clear the remainder of his time in crimson was in jeopardy.

And that his quest for an NFL opportunity would be anything but standard.

“For a guy who came in (and started) as a freshman at WSU, for a guy NOT to be able to compete with guys you’re friends with and training with, that's been a killer for him --  I know it, I see it," says Zarrabi about Cracraft's work in Irvine.

"And we just talk to him and try to keep his spirits high," he adds. "He has to be there on the field but can’t run the routes and do the drills those other guys are doing. He’s had to instead really focus in on the X’s and O’s, the board work, the film stuff and working on his upper body and his core. He’s had to really be patient. And at the same time, he’s been great about it."

In addition to Cracraft, Kupp (EWU), Trubisky (North Carolina) and Hansen (Cal), Rep 1 Sports is preparing seven other hopefuls for an NFL shot: Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, North Carolina wide receiver Mack Hollins, Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, USC running back Justin Davis, Eastern Utah offensive tackle Garett Bolles, Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough and Pittsburgh running back James Conner.

"River and Cooper Kupp have a lot of close ties and they’ve really hit it off here. And even to see a guy like Mitch Trubisky come in from the ACC here and say, ‘I’ve watched a lot of River Cracraft tape and this guy is a beast.’ That’s a lot of respect for Riv … I’ve been really impressed with him, he has a really big heart and he’s going to be alright. His story and timing is just going to be a little different,” said Zarrabi.

The NFL Combine, which kicks off next week in Indianapolis, doesn’t invite players rehabbing ACLs. And while Cracraft could go do some work in front of NFL scouts at WSU’s Pro Day on March 9, he won’t. And for good reason.

“You want to put your best foot forward, when you can,” said Cracraft, who is likely to hold individual workouts with NFL scouts when he’s fully ready. 

CRACRAFT SIGNING WITH Rep 1 Sports was almost preordained, though Cracraft didn’t know it.  One of Rep 1's agents, Bruce Tollner, had a son who, like Cracraft, attended Santa Margarita High. Tollner has been following Cracraft closely ever since he arrived to WSU in 2013. Cracraft said it came as a surprise in one of his first meetings with Rep 1 that Tollner knew so much about his Cougar career.

Choosing an agent was Cracraft’s decision, but he sought input throughout the process from his dad and mom, and brother Skyler.

He talked with several agencies and met in person with two. He said he had a strong feeling early on that he would wind up signing with Rep 1.

“We called each agency and group and basically interviewed them … we went with the one that fit best to me and the one that we trusted the most … When I called Rep 1, everyone was on the line, they all pitched in and gave their two cents. And I was just really comfortable with the way they were talking to me,” said Cracraft.

Rep 1's client list includes Marcus Mariota, Ben Roethlisberger and last year's No. 1 overall pick, Jared Goff of Cal, who was actually back at Rep 1 in Irvine this week helping Trubisky prepare for the Combine.


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