Already considered by many to be the best center in this year's NFL Draft class, California's Alex Mack created a lot of buzz in Mobile as scouts watched him work against some of the nation's top defensive linemen. And his stock should continue to rise this week as he gets to put his athleticism, intelligence and personality on display in Indianapolis this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Aggressive and smart at the snap of the ball, Mack showed off his technique and brute strength during Senior Bowl week, creating headaches for defenders who found themselves unfortunate enough to be lining up across from him. And he seemed to be the only player who was fully capable of going head-to-head with Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji on a consistent basis.
"It was fun, he's a good player. I had a little trouble with him early in the week, but then I got back into football shape and understood how to play with him," Mack said during an exclusive Scout.com interview. "He's a powerful guy."
While Mack was handing out compliments to Raji, another Boston College defensive lineman, Ron Brace, told Scout.com that Mack was the toughest offensive lineman he had faced during Senior Bowl week.
"He's very good with his technique. I know he caught me on one move that I didn't sell hard enough. I tried to do a spin move and he caught me really bad," Brace said with a laugh.
The 6-foot-4, 312-pound center is a rare package of brains, brawn and heart. He won the 2008 Draddy Trophy, presented to the nation's top college football scholar-athlete who also demonstrates exemplary community leadership. It's often referred to as the "Academic Heisman."
As personable as he is smart, Mack will undoubtedly be bouncing non-stop from team to team this week for formal interview sessions with NFL coaches and general managers. And those face-to-face discussions should clinch a first-round selection for a player who is already being heralded by pro talent evaluators and NFL experts as a guy who could play successfully in the NFL for 10 years or more.
Mack completed his undergraduate degree with a 3.61 grade-point-average in legal studies last year, and has been working on a Master's degree in education. A four-time Academic All-Pac-10 selection, Mack sees his Master's degree as his ticket to staying close to the game once his playing days are over.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
"I want to play football for as long as I can. It's something that I've always enjoyed and I really get a lot pleasure of out of playing the game," he said. "Because I love football so much, because of everything it's given me, I want to stay involved in it.
"I don't want to quit football and leave it for the rest of my life. I'd like to be a coach, or maybe a teacher at the junior high or high school level and teach and coach at the same time. Or maybe even go on to the college level. No matter what I do, I have a great Berkley education."
Prior to his departure for Indianapolis, Mack spent a few minutes talking with me about his pre-Combine training, his outstanding football skills and his future in the NFL. As usual, he was candid and full of life. Keep your eye on him during the NFL Combine and all the way through NFL Draft weekend. He's one of the guys you'll want to see playing on your favorite NFL team.
Ed Thompson: Where have you been training? And what have you been up to since we last talked at the Senior Bowl?
Alex Mack: I've been doing even more training than before the Senior Bowl. It's been a little different though. Before the Senior Bowl, I focused on a lot of football drills and how to stay in football shape so that I could move and play like normal at the Senior Bowl. Now, I don't have to worry about that. I can forget about football for now, as I am no longer a football player—I am a Combine specialist. All we've been doing lately are things for the Combine—running the drills, running the pro shuttle, and running the 40. I just keep doing it again and again until I am sick of it (laughs). I want to have as much practice with these drills as I can so I can be as good at them as possible. In the weight room, we've been working mainly on explosion, power, trying to generate force and keep my body moving as quickly as I can, and changing direction quickly. I've just been working out at Cal. Coach Krasinski is our strength and conditioning coach, and he's a great guy. He knows his stuff, as he's done this before with other guys. I've been with him for five years now. He likes me and I like him. It's just a great place to workout. I didn't go off to any fancy training facility, I was just happy to stay home and to keep working with him.
Thompson: I know from talking to athletes who have gone through this process before that usually, when they get into this Combine-mode, they pick up one or two things that they feel are really going to help them in one or more of the events or drills. Is there anything that you've learned over these last couple of weeks you never knew before?
Mack: Learning how to get off out of a sprint stance. That is something that I've worked on to improve my 10-yard time which, therefore, improves my 40-time. In football you want a wide base and stable footing and as a lineman, you want your feet apart all the time. When we're doing the sprint stuff, I have to keep our feet close together. I'm so used to getting off the ball and having a wide base that it's something I've struggled with a bit. I have to focus to keep my feet close together and come off in a straight line with my feet and everything going forward. That's something I've been practicing and because I haven't been good at doing that, I've really improved a lot. It's been nice to work on the sprint mechanics and see improvement over the weeks.
Thompson: After putting in all of that hard work, what is it that you hope the NFL coaches and general managers are going to see from you at the Combine?
Mack: I was actually more excited about the Senior Bowl, because it was about playing football, and showing them how good of a football player I can be. At the Combine, I just want to show them that I'm an athlete who can do the drills that they want me to do, and that I look fine doing them. Honestly, it's not as important to me, because I love football, and I can't wait to get back to doing it. But the Combine is a way for them to compare people, so I just want to prove that I'm right up there with all of the other athletes, I can run the 40 just as fast as everyone else. So to me, it's just about proving myself as an athlete.
Thompson: Not everyone your age is so well-rounded, so well-grounded and focused. Where does that come from? What drives that in you?
Mack: I'm not entirely certain. I've just always had the attitude that anything worth doing is worth doing well. So when it comes to the classroom, if I'm going to have to go to class, I might as well enjoy it, I want to learn something and get something out of the class. And when I'm on the football field, I want to get better. I'm not just out there to waste my time and get through it. Every day, it's about getting something done or you're just wasting your time. You only have so much time in your life, so get something done with it. You want to be active in your life, so that's just an attitude that I've picked up on. On the football field, I have to give a lot of credit to my coaches. Football has been an aspect of my life where I've learned you really have to get after things. I've had coaches who have taught me that you have to work hard, you have to finish plays and how to work. It gave me a lot of self-confidence and showed me what working hard can do for you. On the football field, if I worked harder, I got better than other people, so that just relates to everything in life. You work harder, you're going to get better and you're going to get more out of it.
Alex Mack celebrates a touchdown with WR DeSean Jackson during the 2007 season.
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Thompson: Do you have much downtime? When you do, what do you enjoy doing?
Mack: Lately, I've been trying to get in shape. So it's been a lot of working out and trying to recover and relax and get refreshed. I've been planted pretty securely on my Lazy Boy at home. I play video games, watch movies, but nothing wild or exciting, just hanging out. It's been kind of nice. I also still go to class.
Thompson: Talk about the skills you have that translate well to the professional level...
Mack: One thing I hope I'm known for is being aggressive. On the field, I get after people and finish plays and I don't take any plays off. I think that will be appealing to teams because I can offer a lot in terms of being around the team and working hard and doing the right things and being in the weight room. Technique wise, I think I'm really good at my offensive line technique. I think that's something that I'll keep improving with and be able to play hopefully many seasons in the NFL. Eventually the body is going to give out, and when that starts giving out, the technique will be even more important, and I will be able to out-finesse people eventually when I'm an old fogey at 50 still trying to play.
Thompson: Hey, watch that old fogey at 50 stuff. I just turned 50.
Mack: (laughs) I'm sorry. Are you still playing football?
Thompson: No, I'm not.(laughs) Nice recovery.
Mack: You play football at 50, you're an old fogey. Otherwise, you're in the prime of your life.
Thompson: Well said. Hey, I just talked to your teammate, linebacker Zack Follet recently, another one of my favorite guys in this draft. I asked him to give us a little insight on you. He said, "He's a pretty tough guy, man. He's a hard worker, he is 110 percent every play. He knows one speed, and those are the kind of guys we love at Cal. He goes hard in the weight room. He's a beast and doesn't take any shortcuts— and it shows in his game play—even in the classroom, he won the Draddy Award. He's an all-around kind of guy."
Mack: Well, thank you, Zack..
Thompson: How about that? I mean, I think you need to make this guy the godfather of your children someday.
Mack: (laughs) Zack is a very, very cool guy. One time during Spring ball he lit me up. It was an interception and I was trying to chase some fast DB and he came back the other way and just lit me up. Head over heels, I lost my footing and was absolutely destroyed. I came up looking for blood. I didn't really know where he went, but I was up fast hunting him down. After the play was done, we were cool with each other. I get after him on the field and he gets after me. He's a hard worker and I appreciate Zack and everything he's done for the team.
Thompson: You both bring tremendous energy to the field, are fun to watch, and I think you're both going to have very bright futures in the NFL…
Mack: Yeah, and I'm excited to find out what team I'm going to be on and see the other guys on the team, meet old college friends after the game. It's going to be exciting. My old offensive line coach is now with the Raiders. It's going to be a fun experience.
Thompson: When you get to sit down with coaches and general managers at the Combine this week, what are a couple things you want to convey to every single one of them?
Mack: That I love playing football. I'm going to be a hard worker and a team player. I'm going to bust my [butt] everyday and I'm not going to give up on it. And I'm going to tell them that I'm the kind of person that they're going to want on their team. I'm a nice guy, I'm personable, I love football and I'm ready to play it.
Note: Since the completion of this interview, Mack has suffered a minor injury and won't be able to go through the workouts in Indy. For more on this story, click here.
Click here to learn more about Alex Mack.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.