Mark Pera Draft Diary - Updated Friday

My name is Mark Pera and I'll be participating in this week's Gridiron Classic in Orlando. I believe playing in the NFL is a dream shared by many young kids, and I was certainly one of those kids.

Friday: 

Friday was a relaxing off day. We had a brief walk-thru and then had a b-bque lunch with the North team. After lunch we met with the kids from the Villages school and then headed over to the City Square for an autograph session. The session lasted about 2 hours, but the line wasn't very long for a lineman from Auburn. There was a long line for the Ohio State and Maryland players. It was a pretty relaxing time, and I got to meet 9 or 10 Auburn fans.

Once we returned back the hotel we were given off the rest of the day and I spent most of it with my girlfriend Kelly. I know when I get back to Memphis and continue my workouts with Dean Lotz I won't be able to see her much until after the draft, so we went shopping at the outlet mall and had dinner at Brios.

This morning we were up at 6:30am and left the hotel at 8am for the hour and half drive to the Villages Stadium. The field was nice. The stadium was set up around the polo-fields. Once we were dressed out the strength coach from Georgia warmed up both squads at the same time. Then we broke off with our teams and did some one-on-one drills and worked on some pass pro. Then we ran 5 or 6 plays and it was time for kick-off.

I enjoyed the game because I was able to play one position. At Auburn we flip-flopped the line, so I never knew if I was going to be on the left side or the right side from play-to-play. It wasn't easy getting into a routine playing that way, but on the positive side I think it shows I'm versatile and able to play anywhere along the line.

The North squad came back and won the game when Troy Fleming scored the go ahead touchdown. Troy played at Tennessee but played on the North squad to even things out. He had over 100 yards and was the game's MVP. We (Auburn) beat UT this past season 28-21 and held Troy to something like 4 yards. I wasn't expecting him to look that good, but he is a strong running back.

I mostly went up against four different guys during the game. Khreem Smith from Oklahoma State, Greg Taplin from Michigan State, Derrick Strong from Illinois and Ronald Jones from Southern Miss. Smith and Taplin were speed rushers and more difficult to handle. I'm really going to work hard on my foot work when I get back to Memphis. They were the two best players I had to go up against all week. Jones and Strong were power rushers and I was able to handle them o.k.

In all it was a great week and a great experience playing in an all-star game. I want to thank TFY Draft Preview for allowing me to share my thoughts throughout the week, and I want to thank everyone who has followed along with my diary.

Thursday: 

The wake-up call came this morning at 8:30am and we had to be on the bus for a 9:15am departure to the stadium. We've been practicing all week at the Citrus Bowl. However, this morning we had to practice outside of the stadium on the practice fields because preparations for a monster-truck rally were underway on the inside.

Practice lasted only about an hour. Mostly we worked on game situations including 3rd down, goal line and special teams. We didn't do much hitting and I guess the scouts knew what was ahead because I noticed not as many scouts taking in the practice.

This afternoon we had an optional trip scheduled to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. I made the trip and hung around mostly with roommate Rob Droege from Missouri, Korey Klein from Oklahoma, Jason Rader from Marshall, Jack Scott from Idaho and Kurt Sigler from Eastern Washington. As one point we got a good laugh from the line behind at the Incredible Hulk ride because we had a hard time fitting in the harness for the ride. Eventually, some of the workers came by and helped us get snapped in. It isn't easy riding rollercoasters when you weigh more than 300 pounds.

This week continues to fly by. Initially I viewed this week as an opportunity to get some quality time with NFL scouts, and the thought of making new friends and having fun was a distant second. Turns out they have both been equally important to me and I'm really glad to have been invited to play in this game. They have a room set up for us to hang-out downstairs with board games and computers and playstations. I've dominated everyone who has stepped up to take me on in connect four. My Auburn teammate Spencer Johnson just can't hang. I've beaten him so many times and he keeps coming back for more. Jason Womble has also been whippin' up on folks in connect four, but for some reason we have yet to face-off. I think he might be avoiding me since I've been getting the better of him in practice. He must assume I'll dominate him in the game room too!

I know it's safe to talk this kind of trash because I don't think anyone has spent much time on the internet this week and they certainly haven't gotten wind of my diary yet!

Tonight we are off to Pleasure Island. Since my girlfriend Kelly lives in Orlando and I played in the Citrus Bowl game twice as an Auburn Tiger I'm starting to feel like Orlando is a second home. I'll fill you all in on the Pleasure Island trip in my next update. Thanks for reading and I'll be back soon.


Wednesday: 

Today was by far the best day on and off the field. Practice was spirited, and we were given more free time once practice was over.

Practice started around 10:30am. Again, I worked mostly against Kevin Emmanuel of Florida State and Darrell Lee of Florida.

The intensity of today's workout was at an all-time high. It all started when South Florida's linebacker Maurice Johnson popped running back Zach Abron from Missouri early on during team drills. It looked and sounded worse that it actually was because Zach was moving more east-to-west than north-to-south. I sure didn't see anyone try and come up and hit Ran Carthon of Florida when he was running north-to-south. The intensity really kicked up and the trash talk increased with Robert Reynolds and my roommate Rob Droege after the whistle. Reynolds is that same linebacker from Ohio State involved in the controversy this season with Wisconsin. A short scurmish broke out after Rob went after him. The fight did not last long, but both sides were pretty fired up for the rest of practice.

Of course, none of that stuff is carried off the field. We're all here to work hard and have a good time. After all, we are teammates. We have received a taste of what life in the league might be like. Students from a massage institute in Orlando have tables set up in the locker room so players can enjoy a massage after practice if they so choose.

During the afternoon I mainly relaxed and hung out with a couple of my teammates. We did have an organized team lunch at Hooters. That seemed to be the highlight of the day for some, and I think you would be impressed with how well behaved we were. I will be back tomorrow with an update of today's activities.


Tuesday: 

Today's wake-up call came at 9:15am, and I think I speak for everyone when I say the extra sleep time was much needed.

I am still meeting my teammates and getting to know them. For the most part, I have been hanging out with my fellow offensive lineman. My roommate is a guy named Rob Drodge from Missouri. He plays the tackle position as well. Robert Kent, our quarterback from Jackson State, is the guy on the team who keeps everybody laughing. He's always joking around. You can just tell that he is a natural leader.

The bus left our hotel this morning for the stadium at 10:00am. We ate breakfast as a team at the stadium before being taped and watching film. They served the basic breakfast food: sausage, eggs, toast and orange juice.

Practice went just over two hours today. It was longer because we installed the special teams. I am playing on the extra point and field goal teams. In team drills, I went up against Kevin Emmanuel from Florida State. He has speed, but his pass rush moves are power moves. He does not try to beat you with speed, but when he figures out how to do that, he will be a load to handle.

After practice, I was interviewed by the Saints, Bucs, and again by the Jags. I filled out a questionnaire for the Panthers, too. At the hotel, I hung out with Bryce Bishop, a guard from Ohio State, my roommate Drodge and Jake Scott, a center from Idaho.

As you know, the game is being played in Orlando and my longtime girlfriend Kelly just so happens to live in Orlando. Kelly graduated form Auburn last May. I finally got to spend a few minutes with Kelly tonight when my agent took us to dinner. We do not have a curfew tonight, so I am going to get to bed early again and take advantage of the free time to get some rest.


Monday: 

The weather here in Orlando sure was nice today. It was the first day of practice and it really felt good putting on the pads. It was the first time wearing the gear since playing in the Music City Bowl in Nashville last December. For the most part I think practice went well from an overall team standpoint. Despite not playing together before I thought our chemistry was pretty good for the first day.

The wake-up call came early at 6:30am with the team bus scheduled to depart for practice at 10:15am. After breakfast we had a team meeting and the coaching staff was introduced. Each team has co-head coaches this year consisting of one college coach and one NFL Europe coach. I'm playing on the South squad and our co-head coaches this week are coach Richt from Georgia and coach Kuharchek from the Rhein Fire. I have a lot of respect for coach Richt and what he has accomplished so far at Georgia. They are one of the more talented teams in the SEC and I think they'll contend for the SEC Title every year coach Richt remains at Georgia.

After our team meeting we broke off for position meetings. The coaching staff installed a base package with about 12 to 14 running plays and 4 to 6 pass pro schemes. After getting taped up and having a brief walk-thru it was time for practice. We went through individual drills and then came together for team drills.

I thought I held my own out there pretty well. I mostly went up against Darrell Lee, a defensive end from Florida. I never thought I would be on the same team with a Gator and have a Bulldog for a coach, but I've enjoyed getting to learn about my teammates experiences at various schools. Once practice was complete we took head shots for a local Orlando paper and did some video shots and sound for the t.v. station. They had us say our name and the college we attended. I assume it will be used during the broadcast of the game on ESPN.

Before we were free to rest we were given a presentation by the NFLPA which they called an "Intro to the NFL." For the most part it seemed liked they warned us about dirty agents, but it was interesting to learn about the Union's role and the things they do to ensure the players best interest is always looked out for. Speaking of agents, my agent (Brian Parker) is going to be in town for practice on Wednesday. Brian did a great job in preparing me for what to expect this week. And as far ethics are concerned I feel fortunate to have a good guy in my corner representing me. Everything Brian said has turned out to be accurate. For example, he told me teams would slip questionnaires under the door to fill and that they would ask strange questions. Today I filled one out the Steelers had given me. It was a three-part form…the first thing they asked was to write a brief essay describing myself. Secondly, there was a list of 91 words and I had to check the words that I've heard people used to describe me. Thirdly, I had to go over a list consisting of the same words from the previous list and check which words I believe actually do describe me.

It is really fascinating to learn this side of the industry. I never realized the amount of time and effort each team puts into evaluating prospects. For the most part teams are looking for the same thing, but it seems they all have a unique way in finding out the information they seek. I guess I can't blame them for doing their research since they invest such large sums of money in draftees.

Well, it's time for dinner. After dinner I have a couple of interviews and then I'm off to bed. I think it's safe to assume I'm going to sleep well tonight. Thanks again for checking out my diary and I'll be back tomorrow with another update.


Sunday: When I stepped off the plane in Orlando this afternoon the realization that I have the opportunity to fulfill such an incredible dream of playing in the NFL finally began to sink in. I look forward to keeping you up to speed on the challenge this week is going to bring. It is definitely the type of challenge I love!

I began playing football when I was in the seventh grade for a park organization in my hometown of Memphis, TN., and it seems like just yesterday! I really enjoyed my time in high school, but we never made it past the state-semis. I played for Memphis University School, which is an all-boy school in Memphis, which is where I was born and raised. My sophomore year of high school was the first year I was a full-time starter. In the state semi-final game I found myself going up against John Henderson of Nashville Pearl-Cohn. It was a good game, but it was their night. Henderson went on to earn All-America honors for the University of Tennessee and he is currently playing for the Jacksonville Jags.

By the time I was a senior in high school I was beginning to get heavily recruited by schools like Arkansas, Ole Miss, UT, Northwestern and Auburn. Even Yale and Harvard made a strong push. It was always a dream of mine to play for Notre Dame and I knew if that didn't happen I wanted to play in the SEC. Memphis is kinda like the melting pot for SEC fans. Living in Memphis I grew up an hour away from Ole Miss, 2 ½ hours from Miss. State, 3 hours from Alabama and I was in the same state as Vandy and UT. Needless to say I couldn't help but have a good feeling about the SEC since the Memphis paper covers the conference as if every team was actually in the city of Memphis.

I attended Notre Dame's camp and I think they were surprised at how well I tested in some of their drills. They never offered me a scholarship, and I used that as motivation. It's the same type of motivation helping me push myself to make the most of this opportunity I have in front of me now of playing in the NFL.

Eventually I signed with Auburn University out of high school. I was hosted by guys like Ben Leard and Josh Weldon on my visit and I really felt comfortable with the entire situation. It's hard to believe that my time in college is over. I graduated in December with a degree in Marketing and a minor in Criminology. Playing in the SEC has been a great experience and I've been fortunate to not only play with some great athletes, but I've also gone up against the best. The SEC has so many great players and it is evident by the amount of players the conference has selected in the NFL Draft every April.

Mark Pera signed with an agent last month named Brian Parker and he is from Memphis also. He represents guys like Mike McKenzie of the Packers and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls. I've been training with his trainer in Memphis named Dean Lotz. I met with a few agents, but I felt comfortable with Brian. Last year he represented a guy named Wade Smith from Memphis who ended up starting all 16 games as a rookie for the Miami Dolphins. Wade had a 7th round draft grade going into the draft and he worked himself up to the 3rd round where he was selected by the Dolphins.

I liked what Brian and Dean were able to do with Wade. I believe Brian when he tells me that it is up to me and how hard I want to work at Dean's as to whether or not I'll improve my draft grade. Having already graduated gives me a plenty of time to workout and I've been going through two-a-days since I got back home to Memphis. My draft grade wasn't where I would've liked it, but I feel really good about the work I've put in and this is going to be a big week because I'll have a chance to practice and play in front of NFL scouts. Right now I'm not focused on my grade. I do believe that will take care of itself. All I'm focused on right now is working hard and playing well this week and then getting back to Dean Lotz in Memphis and getting ready for my pro day at Auburn in March. This week will also be fun because I'll meet guys I've watched on t.v. or played against at some point during my career at Auburn.

I've been getting ready for this week since my senior season finished after the Music City Bowl in Nashville. When I started training with Dean I measured in at 6'6, 322 pounds. Dean wanted to shed some body fat and I'm down to 310, but I can really feel myself getting stronger and faster. We've worked on everything like my endurance, footwork and upper-body strength. My agent said when Wade Smith began working out with Dean last year he was 274 pounds and he weighed in at the combine at 296 and posted a 5.1 in the 40-yard dash and did his career best in reps on 225.

This is going to be a fun week and one that I look forward to updating you on as it unfolds. After I checked in this afternoon I took two psychological exams and then had a nice dinner with the team. I thought we were going to take the Wonderlic tonight, but we ended up just having a simple orientation. We haven't been here long, but I've already been interviewed by the Texans, Jags and Giants. Thank you for checking out my dairy intro and I'll be sure to check in tomorrow.


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