Coach's Corner

Recently the pro scouts came to Washington to work out local kids and to assess their potential to play at the next level. Unfortunately, Washington is no longer considered the hotbed it once was for professional talent.

This was evident by the fact that not a single Husky was invited to the NFL combine and the draft will probably re-confirm it again in late April when there will be few Dawgs selected, if any.

That can be viewed in a number of ways but it's obvious that the high end talent level has dropped over the last decade or so and it might also explain why Washington has become a second tier Pac-10 team during that same period of time.

Although producing professional players is not a stated purpose in Washington football, at least not like it is in Columbus, Ohio and Miami, Florida, it was always a great selling point for our staff to encourage kids to come to Seattle. I even went so far to point out that the majority of the pro teams are in the upper half of the country and therefore playing in the rain in Seattle could actually prepare kids to play at the next level.

Likewise, I always felt it was always an unfair advantage to the southern schools who visited kids with the sun while the rest of us dealt with the rains and snows of winter. Oh well, I tried anyway .

My guess is, regardless of the weather, there may be two Huskies drafted this year and that has pretty much has been the average since eleven players were selected in the 1997 draft. There has even been a zero draft for the Dawgs in this decade and only one Husky picked a couple of times. It is obvious that USC regularly turns out more pros than anyone out in this league, but surprisingly, Stanford also has produced quite a few professional players. Most of those were recruited by Tyrone Willingham before he left for Notre Dame.

Because Washington continues to list their players by academic year rather than eligibility year, (which I find ridiculous for the fans), it is hard to tell exactly who is a senior and who is not. However, it is usually those who were introduced before the last home game are considered to have completed their eligibility and considering that no Husky underclassmen have declared that left only about a dozen kids to work out.

The NFL also invites kids from other northwest colleges to likewise tryout and that includes players from Central Washington, Western Washington and PLU, plus an occasional Cougar living on the west side.

Louis Rankin, Greyson Gunheim,Roy Lewis, and maybe Marcel Reece probably have the best chances of getting drafted due to speed alone, but I personally am rooting for Jordan Reffett just because of his leadership and determination. Any guy who is elected most-inspirational, two years in a row, is going to garner someone's attention. He will get looked at based on character alone. Believe me that "character" criteria is becoming a bigger and bigger factor for the NFL and it is clear that locally the Seahawks have moved in that direction.

Rankin, Lewis, and Gunheim all have speed and that may get them some consideration. Offensive tackle, Chad Macklin and receiver, Reece could be looked at for their size as might Caesar Rayford as a defensive end, but those two probably will have to sign as free-agents.

One player who did open some eyes was receiver/kick return, Anthony Russo who blew their socks off on the quickness and lateral movement test. Russo also popped a pretty good 40 time, but he too will probably go un-drafted.

In reality it's often better to go un-drafted rather than be picked in the late rounds simply because you can look at the depth of whatever team you sign with. Most free agents make teams based in part on being in the right place at the right time.

The pro scouts put the kids through almost the exact same tests as they do at the NFL combine but obviously there are smaller numbers. Scouts still carry their own watches and want to do their own measurements, so any standardized tests are all clocked separately.

Besides the 40 time, the scouts also measure 10 yard times as well as the cone test or quickness of change of direction. The NFL also uses the standing long jump and vertical jump which are excellent "explosion" tests. The kids also perform the 225 pound bench press for maximum number of reps and anything over 25 to 30 is considered pretty good. (short arms help) and consequently they also measure length of arms, size of hands, and other body measurements.

Positions of need are addressed by the various NFL teams and the priority of defensive linemen might help Gunheim and defensive tackle Wilson Afoa to garner some attention.

The scouts also interview the medical staff and look at each kid's chart for the time he was at Washington. If time permits they also interview the position coaches and want to know specifically the player's graduation status. Believe it or not the players who get their degrees end up making more money on average than those who don't complete their education.

Some former players, like linebacker, Joe Lobendahn, also worked out hoping to catch on with any team. That is the point of these workouts which are held at almost every major university playing football. All these kids really want is an opportunity to get into a camp. Making a team will still get down to being in the right place when opportunity knocks. Lots of time it gets down to injuries and depth.

Performing well on special teams is also a major consideration for first year players and it's not hard to spot Gunheim on film flying down on kickoffs and covering punts. Russo might also get a look simply because he improved so much as a punt returner.

When it gets down to it, many times the NFL teams watch all the special teams film available so loafing in coverage, missing open-field tackles, or not staying under control can hurt a kid as much as scoring touchdowns can help them.

Each team uses their own comparative information and do their own analysis even though every team has the exact same numbers. It's as though there is some secret tidbit of information that separates that team's overall evaluation of each kid.

Like I said, the NFL is a long shot for most of these kids and they know the odds are against them. Still the dream of playing on is hard to put out. All of these Huskies would like to try but only a few will be invited or even given a chance. That is precisely why staying in shape after the season ends is so very critical to senior players.

Russo and fellow receiver Quintin Daniels both worked extremely hard in preparation for this testing and both posted some impressive numbers. That's what it gets down to, numbers. Everything is put into a computer and every kid is evaluated by each team for his individual fit.

I talked with a number of scouts and in general they all agree that the Washington kids are high on character and work ethic and that maybe a "few" will get that all important invitation to try out for a team. Maybe a couple will get drafted but deep down most realize that their dream is a long shot. When less than 5% play after college, it puts that much more emphasis on getting their degrees. This is something that Coach Willingham does better than just about every coach in America - expresses the importance of this.

It may not be the "combine" but it is still a chance show their stuff and it is also really good for the underclassmen to see the process and know what to expect.

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