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Football: The final showcase

Jack Hefferon | Wednesday, March 27, 2013

 

For many, it was a homecoming, while others described it as a grand finale to their Notre Dame careers.

But for Manti Te’o, getting through Tuesday’s Pro Day – the final audition for NFL scouts before next month’s draft – was as exciting as a birthday party.

“This is possibly the best day ever,” the former Irish linebacker said. “It’s a big, big burden off your shoulders. It feels like it’s your birthday. I’m very glad it’s over.”

Te’o had reason to celebrate, as he chopped over one-tenth of a second off his much-scrutinized 4.81-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine last month. But Te’o’s 40 – officially timed at 4.69 seconds – was far from the only impressive performance turned in by the 14 former Irish athletes showcasing their skills.

Tight end Tyler Eifert didn’t run the 40 after running well at the Combine, but he impressed scouts while running routes and in blocking drills. Eifert is expected to be an early-round pick, but said he hopes his efforts will be enough to convince teams he is the best tight end on the board.

“I’m doing everything to be the first tight end taken,” he said. “That’s where I want to be.”

Besides top prospects Eifert and Te’o, several Irish players may have played their way up draft boards Tuesday. Receiver Robby Toma ran a 4.50 in the 40, the fastest of the day, while fellow receiver John Goodman showed great range in catching passes and posted the team’s best scores in both the vertical and broad jumps.

“I thought I did well,” Goodman said. “This day has been a long time coming. A lot of work was put in, and a lot of sweat. … I thought I put up good numbers, and hopefully I represented myself well.”

Theo Riddick dropped a couple passes early in the position drills but settled in later on and said afterwards that he was still pleased with his results. The versatile back pulled a hamstring while running at the Combine, so Tuesday was his biggest chance to show what he could contribute at the next level.

Riddick said the pressure of performing in front of representatives of 27 of the 32 NFL teams with so much at stake was daunting and rivaled the pressure of playing in January’s National Championship.

“There’s always nerves when you do something that’s very meaningful, not only to your future but to your family,” he said. “There’s a whole lot invested in this.”

With Pro Day over, any workouts players will do from now until the draft will be solely for individual teams. But while the pressure of the Combine and Pro Day may have passed, it’s now shifted onto the final step of the transition: April’s NFL Draft. And while the players are anxious to find out where they will be headed next season, Te’o said now that Pro Day is over, he’s enjoying the experience of being back in South Bend.

“I’m just glad that I’m out here playing football,” he said. “I’m with my guys, I’m around this building, … I’m back home.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at whefforo@nd.edu