.Taking their shot at the NFL
Thursday, March 25, 2010 10:10 PM EDT
By Matt Straub
The name of the event is fitting. On their “Pro Days,” several Central Connecticut football players took the next step towards being pros.
For former star running back James Mallory, who did his drills at his hometown University of Buffalo’s pro day earlier this week, his day seemed to solidify his status as a legitimate National Football League draft prospect.
While his 40-yard dash time of 4.51 was a few hundredths of a second slower than he’d have liked, it was good. The rest of the day, however, kept Mallory on the map.
“I know I can do better but it wasn’t poor,” Mallory said of his 40 time. “The rest of the drills went really well for me. A lot of scouts came up to me throughout the day. They knew who I was, which is a good thing.”
Those scouts gave Mallory preliminary interviews, hoping to learn about his character. That’s usually the next step for teams when they’re looking at a player they’ve already identified as a prospect based on physical attributes. In Mallory’s case, they must have liked what they heard.
“Teams have been calling. They told my agent they want me in for a pre-draft visit,” he said, adding that he hopes to get five such visits before April’s draft. Those individual tryouts are set for the next few days.
All those factors combine to give Mallory a strong belief that he may hear his name called in New York.
“It really does seem like a real possibility right now,” he said. “That’s not in my hands now. I’ve busted my tail since I was six years old. I’m leaving it in God’s hands now.”
Aubrey Norris has even more to work for. Norris, one of three Blue Devils who took part in Yale’s pro day yesterday, has a daughter who turns one in a few days. He has a harder road to the upper levels of pro football than Mallory seems to, but is willing to pursue other options. In fact, he’s preparing for a tryout with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Part of the reason for the interest in Norris is his willingness to play multiple positions. He was primarily a quarterback at Central, but spent time at receiver and is taking reps as a defensive back as well.
“It opens up a lot of doors,” Norris said. “I’m willing to play pretty much anything, I just want to play. CFL, UFL, I don’t care as long as it ends in ‘FL’ and I can play football.”
Norris, however, isn’t putting all of his eggs in one basket. He’ll graduate in May and is continuing his internship he once shared with Mallory at a Hartford elementary school in preparation for an eventual career as a social worker.
“I’ll be done in school with May, and hopefully I’ll know where the football thing is going by then, too,” Norris said. “It’s important to me to finish school and get my degree so I can help her. It’s definitely a different perspective. Playing football would better my life, but it would better hers, too. Being able to provide things for her that I didn’t have would be a wonderful thing.”
Being a father has helped Norris stay focused on the work required to get considered for a professional deal.
“When I look in her eyes it motivates me even more to finish my degree and my workouts,” Norris said.
Norris benched 225 pounds 16 times, a good number for a smaller player, and jumped 35 inches. His agent, Chuck Brusso, believes Norris will be even more impressive when teams actually see him play.
“There are guys who are great in workouts and can’t play, and guys who aren’t great in the workouts who can play great,” Brusso said.
Brusso said he has spoken to representatives of the UFL’s Hartford Colonials, who could have Norris in for a look in May. Brusso has been reminding Norris that the long road can lead to success. His firm, Sports Management Worldwide, represents Matt Moore, who went from a relative unknown to the starting quarterback of the Carolina Panthers and is now in line for a multi-million dollar contract.
“It’s a journey,” Brusso said. “[Norris] is an impressive kid. He has a great attitude and he’s attentive. He just wants an opportunity to show what he can do on the field.”
Two other Central players, defensive lineman Ray Saunders and tight end Greg Grochowski, a Bristol Eastern grad, also took part in Yale’s pro day.
The Blue Devils have stayed in touch throughout the process, comparing notes as they get closer to realizing their dreams.
“We work together, just like we did on the football field,” Norris said. “I’ll call [Mallory] and see how his went. We all kind of touch base as we go through this together.”
The biggest reminder they give each other is to make sure they do everything they can to make the most of their opportunities. Not that they need such prodding very often.
“Every night I lay down I thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to get this far,” Mallory said. “Just to have this chance is special.”
The hope is that this group of Blue Devils helps prove that Central is special in its own way, a diamond in the rough that gives players once overlooked by big-time recruiters the chance to shine at even higher levels.
“It’s a small school but we have athletes,” Norris said. “We just need a chance.”
That chance has arrived. We’ll fine out in the weeks to come if it helped some Blue Devils become pros.
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