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IU football seniors struggle to prepare for NFL Draft due to coronavirus


Fifth-year Reakwon Jones sacks a University of Tennessee player close to the ten yard line during the second half of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida. The draft for professional football hopefuls has become more difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic. Anna Tiplick

Players dedicate most of their lives to the goal of hearing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell say their name during the NFL draft. For many NFL hopefuls, the months leading up to the draft are the most crucial time period because it's the only time teams get to interact with them and evaluate them. 

To many, the draft process looks glamorous on television during the NFL Combine — the league's most prestigious scouting event — as players run 40-yard dashes in under four and a half seconds and perform dozens of reps on the bench press. While only 330 players are invited to the Combine at the end of February, for the vast majority of athletes the process is a stressful grind for recognition.

With the coronavirus halting all sports throughout the United States, this process for NFL hopefuls has become even more difficult. Players usually go through a taxing process of interviews, individual team workouts and most importantly college Pro Days — their only opportunities to make an impression on a team.

As a result of the pandemic, IU and schools across the country were forced to close athletic facilities and cancel Pro Day — a mini-combine hosted by schools — leaving many athletes with just their body of work from games to show NFL teams.

“I was really disappointed when I first heard about it because I went out to a training facility in Seattle, and it was like training for that first game of the season,” Nick Westbrook said in teleconference Tuesday. “There’s a build-up for that. I was ready to perform which was important to me since I didn’t get a Combine invite.”

Westbrook was in Seattle, Washington, at a training facility when the outbreak started to sweep through large metropolitan cities throughout the country. He didn’t want to be stuck out west so far from his family, so Westbrook decided to cut his stay short and he returned to Florida on March 14.

Before leaving, Westbrook wanted to get something on film just in case IU’s Pro Day was canceled. Westbrook held an impromptu Pro Day at a local field, recording drills NFL teams would want to see.

“It was rushed,” Westbrook said. “I would have preferred to have a day to be at my best physically. My agent has been sending them out to teams, so we made the best of what we had.”

Since returning home, Westbrook said he’s doing “Rocky workouts” in his driveway. He uses sandbags as a replacement for weights to maintain his training leading into the NFL Draft, which is still set to take place from April 23-25.

Westbrook is not the only Hoosier struggling to prepare for the upcoming draft.

Linebacker Reakwon Jones had been training in Colorado since January before deciding to return home to Florida on March 14 due to the coronavirus.

Now that Jones is back home, his workouts are limited. All the gyms are closed, and he doesn’t have any weights. The only exercise equipment Jones has in his house are bands for stretching, so his workouts consist of pushups, sit-ups, crunches and fieldwork.

Jones has teamed up with former teammates Jonathan Crawford and Donavan Hale for his workouts. With everything on lockdown, the three of them have to hop fences to get onto fields and continue their workouts.

Jones said he understands the reality of the situation he finds himself in. He said speed and footwork are the focus.

Just because he won’t have an official 40-yard dash time from his Pro Day doesn’t mean his speed isn’t important. Just because there is no three-cone drill or 20-yard shuttle doesn’t mean his footwork shouldn’t be graceful. Just because no one else is around to see it now doesn’t mean everything can't be perfect for when someone is.

“My mindset is to keep working, keep training,” Jones said. “And then get ready to play football because whoever comes calling, whatever happens, I’m just trying to be ready.”

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