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Notre Dame hosts 17 former players at Pro Day

| Friday, April 1, 2016

17 former Irish players participated in Notre Dame’s Pro Day in front of scouts from 31 NFL teams Thursday at Loftus Sports Center.

Of the 17 participants, a handful — including offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin, linebacker Jaylon Smith and receiver Will Fuller — are projected to be first-round or second-round draft picks.

“[It’s] great,” defensive lineman Sheldon Day said. “Especially seeing those guys — you haven’t seem them in three months. I’ve seen them at the NFL Combine a little bit, but nothing like being back home and going to hang out again. It’s definitely like old times.”

Day did not run the 40-yard dash, but completed 26 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.

Former Irish receiver Chris Brown leaps to make a catch during Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Thursday at Loftus Sports Complex.Kelly Vaughn | The Observer
Former Irish receiver Chris Brown leaps to make a catch during Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Thursday at Loftus Sports Complex.

Following the 40-yard dash and the cone drill, Stanley, Martin and offensive lineman Matt Hegarty worked through a series of position drills. Stanley is projected by some to be a top-five draft pick, and Martin is expected to be selected in the second or third round. Afterwords, Martin talked about his approach to the draft process.

“It’s a dream come true for all of us, it’s a pretty special thing,” he said. “… It’s special, doing it at the place we love. This is a very special university, it means a lot to all of us who’ve been here.

“Just kind of out there doing drills, playing football. It’s nice because once that happens you kind of lock in, and that’s what you usually do. It’s just like a game. You don’t really hear the crowd, you ignore everything and focus on what’s at hand.”

In the 40-yard dash, receiver Chris Brown improved his draft stock by turning in a time of 4.44, which would have ranked as the fifth-best time for receivers at the NFL Combine. Fuller did not participate in the 40-yard dash after recording a time of 4.32 at the Combine last month. Fuller is considered by some to be one of the three best receivers in this year’s draft class, and Brown said the high praise is well deserved.

“He deserves every bit of that,” Brown said. “He’s my brother, and I’m praying he goes in the first round because of how hard he works and all that. We work so hard behind the scenes, me and him … I’m just glad to be out here with him and show that I can play ball too.”

Notably absent from the field drills was Jaylon Smith, as the the Fort Wayne native is still returning to form after tearing his left knee’s ACL and LCL during Notre Dame’s 44-28 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith did, however, bench press 24 reps of 225 pounds in the weight room.

“He was trying to be there for his teammates,” former teammate and linebacker Jarrett Grace said of Smith. “He’s an incredible guy, an incredible athlete. … For [Smith’s injury] to happen, it’s like, man, you feel awful. Thinking about his future as well, hopefully [the injury] doesn’t affect it at all because this has been his dream. He’s been working towards this for so long.”

Making his return to South Bend after transferring to Florida State for the 2015-2016 season was quarterback Everett Golson. Golson clocked in a time of 4.82 in the 40-yard dash and ran through a series of passing drills with former teammates Brown, Fuller, receiver Amir Carlisle and running back C.J. Prosise.

“I feel I did good,” Golson said. “I feel I made a little noise, lot of people probably weren’t expecting it. But I think I made some noise today.”

Golson said he does not regret his decision to transfer and discussed his reasons for coming back to Notre Dame’s Pro Day.

“As a man, I think you live with the decisions that you make,” he said. “And the decision at the time was to leave. I don’t regret that in the slightest, it’s about moving forward at this point.

“I felt this is my alma mater. I wanted to be back with those guys. As it turns out, I didn’t have any wide receivers at [Florida State] … I want to take my hat off to … the whole Notre Dame community … they’ve welcomed me back, so it’s been good.”

Also returning to work out at Notre Dame were defensive back Eilar Hardy and defensive lineman Ishaq Williams. Hardy and Williams were two of the “Frozen Five” players dismissed from the university at the beginning of the 2014-2015 season. Hardy transferred to Bowling Green for the 2015-2016 season, but Williams was denied his appeal by the NCAA for eligibility this past season. Williams did not see the field for the Irish, but practiced with the team throughout the year.

“It’s a great opportunity to be out here competing,” Williams said. “The fact that I can come out here and still be able to do this means a lot to me. I want to thank Notre Dame for allowing me to come back and thanks to the scouts for giving me a chance to come out here and compete.”

Former Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell accelerates during the 40-yard dash Thursday at Loftus Sports Complex.Emma Farnan | The Observer
Former Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell accelerates during the 40-yard dash Thursday at Loftus Sports Complex.

A third member of the “Frozen Five,” cornerback KeiVarae Russell, was also present at Pro Day. Russell started 11 games for Notre Dame this past season and recorded 60 tackles and two interceptions.

Russell’s day did not go as planned, however. The Everett, Washington native turned in the top 40-yard dash time of the day with a 4.43 on his first attempt, but he pulled his left-hamstring during his second attempt. Despite the minor injury, Russell still participated in the broad jump and notched a jump of 11 feet and 2 inches, which would have ranked second amongst all cornerbacks at the NFL Combine.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Russell said. “I think at the end of the day, if you look at it, you could say [that] I strained [my left hamstring] last Friday. So you can evaluate … [I’m] coming off of a broken leg and [I] got a strained hamstring and [I’m] top-five in damn near every category — that tells you what kind of athlete you’re going to get.”

Safeties Elijah Shumate and Matthias Farley and defensive lineman Romeo Okwara also took the field Thursday. Farley finished the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.45, while Shumate and Okwara did not participate, having earned times of 4.58 and 4.90, respectively, at the Combine.

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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