Anthony Russo (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
SEATTLE - For the first time in five years, the Dempsey Indoor was abuzz with the thought of life after Husky football. Every March, Washington's Pro-Timing Day comes and goes, and recently it would pass with nary a mention. But 2009 has ushered in a new regime and a new way of doing things.
And there were a few former Dawgs that made the trek back to Montlake to take advantage of a fresh start.
Did they turn the right heads?
Former players Joe Lobendahn (Winnipeg), Brandon Ala (B.C. Lions), Walt Winter, Darin Harris, Roy Lewis (Pittsburgh), Erick Lobos, Robert Lukevich, Ink Aleaga, Hugh Millen and first-year Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Jim Mora were on hand to lend their support to 15 current and former Huskies, as they showcased their skill and athleticism in front of a cadre of NFL scouts from approximately 10 NFL and CFL teams; Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, B.C. Lions (CFL), New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars were seen roaming around, taking down times and watching players work out.
For the 2009 graduates, Juan Garcia, Mesphin Forrester and Johnie Kirton appeared to be the most impressive physical specimens out there. Garcia, at a shade over 6-foot-2 and 299 pounds, ran a 5.3 electronically-timed 40, nearly a tenth best than the time he recorded as a late addition to the recent NFL combine in Indianapolis. He made it to Indy via an outstanding week at the East-West Shrine Game.
"Some guys had me in the low 5.2's, some had me at the high 5.2's and I'm happy with that," Garcia said afterward. "That's probably my best. I did a lot better than I expected. I feel a lot better about my form. The scouts said I helped myself today. As long as they give me a shot in camp, I'm going to show them that I can play the game. That's all I've got."
Garcia is now 100 percent healed from the Lisfranc injury he suffered a year ago during spring football. "It hurt getting another injury, but it helped to show how tough I am and that I didn't let something like that scare me," he said. The goal for Garcia is to parlay enough interest through these combine-style workouts into a late-round draft pick or a free agent contract. He was targeted as a fourth through seventh-round pick after the 2007 season, but made the choice to return to Washington for one more season.
"A lot of teams were on me last year, but you can't regret nothing," he said. "I won't look back. I'm happy with my decision."
Forrester, at a little over 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, ran a 4.61 electronically-timed 40 and moved very well in the individual drills for the defensive backs. Kirton, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound tight end/defensive line prospect, ran a 4.93 40 and went through both the lineman and skill position drills to double his exposure as an athlete.
For some of the older players, they were looking for a second chance to make a big first impression.
"I want to look back and say hey, I left every stone unturned," former UW quarterback Johnny DuRocher said Tuesday after his workout. "Hopefully something good will happen."
DuRocher decided to participate despite currently rehabbing a torn achilles in his left foot that he had surgically repaired on New Year's Eve. According to DuRocher, his foot hurt a little bit taking drops and doing some of the play-action things the scouts wanted to see. "It's just not there," he added, noting that he's still six to eight weeks away from being able to put in a full combine-style workout.
Some, like Mateaki, have been out of the game for a couple of years and want to prove to themselves that they have what it takes to make a team and fulfill a dream. Others, like Macklin and Russo, have tested the free agent waters and for one reason or another didn't take hold. If they have their way, that will change.
"I'm motivated," Russo said. "I've still got the itch." The 5-foot-10, 191-pound receiver prospect matched Forrester's 4.61 40, best of the camp. He signed with the Seahawks as a free agent a year ago, only to be cut when he suffered a hamstring during the second day of camp.
"It's a numbers game, and I knew that," he said, matter-of-factly.
Once he was let go, the B.C. Lions and Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL came calling with multi-year contracts, but Russo's heart was set on giving the NFL another go. In the meantime, he took care of his son and worked construction with his uncle while staying in shape and anxiously biding his time.
"Every scout talked about how I looked faster today," he said, noting that the scout for the Indianapolis Colts recognized him from last years Pro Day and inquired about his story. There's no question Russo was the best receiver in Dempsey today; but will it be enough?
The Colts' scout also remembered Macklin, who measured in at 6-foot-7.5 and 285 pounds. Ever since he made the conscious decision to get into football shape, the former UW right tackle put on 20 pounds in the last month.
"Hopefully I impressed somebody today," Macklin said, also noting that the Lions, Seahawks, Panthers and Bears also recognized him and asked him about his 2008 season. Macklin was invited to Minnesota's mini-camp, but it became clear to him early on that things just weren't going to work out.
"It was kind of a bad situation with the amount of people they brought in," he said. "I think there were 24 offensive linemen and they were only going to keep 7-8 of us and they had 12 returners. It was a long shot, but I did everything I could and I'm going to do it again."
The difficulty for players like Russo and Macklin is that they won't know if they've made a dent in someone's NFL plans until nearly May, when all the free agents are invited to participate in mini-camps. So while the senior prospects like Garcia - who are confident they will get at least a free agent shot with somebody - will return to their daily routine, tinkering with a more football-specific training regimen, others like Meataki can only continue to push themselves in the hopes that they've done everything they can.
And even that may not be enough. Russo may still participate in a combine in early May hosted by the B.C. Lions in Oregon if the free agent market dries up.
Only time will tell.