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Combining all the pieces

I have pecked away at this keyboard this proclamation previously and I still hold it to be self-evident. I admittedly am an NFL Drafnik.
With this decree of my own personal convictions out in the forefront, I pen this column to say that I will not be writing my highly anticipated first-round mock of the NFL Draft this year in April. Nope, it won’t happen. That’s because the annual extravaganza in New York City will be May this year. Thus, you will have to wait a few additional weeks for my selections.
College football is the last level of pure love of the game of tackling and blocking before the fortunate ones advance it to the paycheck allure of big cities and sneaker deals.
Despite the NFL’s prolonging of the football “off” season by pushing the draft to a month later, I find solace in still being able to write about football in the form of the NFL Scouting Combine.
Now some of you may like the combine; some of you may despise the combine; some of you may not give a rat’s patootie about the combine or anything football or athletics-related. No matter your feelings on the subject, please stick with me on this.
Let me first explain the concept of the NFL Scouting Combine – It is an opportunity for a selected group of college football players from around the nation to gather in Indianapolis to perform various efforts of strength, skills and speed in front of NFL personnel evaluators. For these tests of agility, the student-athletes abandon the pads and helmets to wear T-shirts, shorts and running shoes. In short, it’s a meat market.
The projected first-round and early draft talents can secure their selection spots or, with a bad showing, possibly slip back to a later pick which, in turn, can cost them the bigger money that goes to the top dudes.
As for the players expected to be chosen later in the draft or on the cusp of not being selected by one of the 32 NFL teams in the seven rounds, those athletes have an opportunity to make a name for themselves.
Like in countless facets of our lives, you have the chance to step up and be recognized.
One such story is that of Jerick McKinnon, who along with his fellow Georgia Southern Eagle teammate Lavelle Westbrooks, was among the 335 invited to the Feb. 22-25 combine. McKinnon and Westbrooks also played in the 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
While Westbrooks slimmed down for his potential transition from college safety to pro cornerback, McKinnon arrived at the combine at virtually his collegiate playing weight. McKinnon’s potential jump to the NFL also involves a shift in position of sorts – QB to RB.
McKinnon, you see, ran the triple option as the quarterback with the Eagles, but he also played slotback and fullback when a series of injuries plagued GSU’s depth chart. He returned kicks and he even played the position of defensive back for the first time in his college career during a FCS playoff game. As a DB that day, McKinnon intercepted two passes which warrants the possibility McKinnon is penciled in as a defensive player by some teams.
Those who have watched him play already knew McKinnon was a phenomenal athlete. Just ask any Florida Gator players how impressive he is.
McKinnon scored the game-winning touchdown in the Eagles’ 26-20 win over the Gators as the senior had a game-high 125 rushing yards on just nine carries. He finished his career with 3,899 rushing yards for third on Georgia Southern’s all-time list.
However, scouts in Indianapolis had to be figuring the 5-foot-9, 209-pounder was just another guy.
Well McKinnon proved he is something special. What he accomplished at the combine will make your head spin when you think about it.
McKinnon topped the running backs group chart with 32 reps in the 225-pound bench press, and ranked second in the 40-yard dash, broad jump and vertical jump testing. He showed why he deserved Georgia Southern’s Iron Works Dedication Award three times with the top total for bench press reps in his running backs position group in Indy.
His 32 reps on the bench tied him for eighth on the list of all offensive players tested over the weekend. The kicker to that 32 number is McKinnon actually did 34, but two were not counted because they weren’t deemed proper technique.
The Marietta native ran an official 4.41 in the 40, good for sixth-best among all offensive players. McKinnon’s vertical jump of 40.5 inches and broad jump of 11 feet ranked third and sixth, respectively, in comparison to all offensive players.
He did as well as any player at any position, at least in terms of displaying his raw athletic ability. The Wall Street Journal (yes, that Wall Street Journal) tabulated all the numbers from the combine and drew the conclusion that no player at any position did better than McKinnon in all the various measurements of strength, speed and athletic ability.
“As far as the running backs, I think McKinnon from Georgia Southern is a real wild card in this draft,” said Mike Mayock of the NFL Network. “He had a big day.”
At this point, as many as seven players have been mentioned as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. McKinnon isn’t one of them although his 32 on the bench equaled that of potential top pick Auburn 6-foot-5 and 332-pound offensive tackle Greg Robinson and was 11 more than 6-5, 266 South Carolina product Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end deemed to have the most physical potential in the last decade.
As a matter of fact, heading into the combine McKinnon was listed as a potential seventh-round selection. He was ranked as the 17th best running back prospect.
Based on my evaluations of McKinnon, right now I have him going in late fourth to mid-fifth round. His stock could rise even more with a strong showing at the Georgia Southern Pro Day later this month. You don’t have to take my synopsis as legit, but keep in mind I predicted last year former GSU player J.J. Wilcox would go to the Dallas Cowboys with the 80th pick overall in the third round. That projection, which was printed in my April 25, 2013, Sylvania Telephone column was exact.
As I mentioned, I get into this stuff. And I become more involved when it affects individuals in our area like McKinnon.
Workout warriors to the extent of McKinnon are not common. It takes a person’s physical makeup, mental commitment, and seemingly never-ending desire to be better. Is it possible for our Screven County athletes to have a McKinnon-level passion? The easy answer is yes, but the extremely tough part is the dedication to get to that standard.
We should all have a passion to meet our goals – be it on a football field, in a classroom, at work, in church, or with our families. And if we don’t have goals, we need to get some.
A goal we all should have is to be a better person tomorrow than we were today.
At the Feb. 26 Sylvania Rotary Club meeting, guest speaker SCHS varsity baseball coach JR Doyle talked about his players as players, but more so talked about his players as being valued parts of this community.
Doyle said student-athletes from baseball and other sports helped those who needed assistance with cleanup after recent the ice storm. He said that over the years players have participated with the local soup kitchen, Read Across America, and Buddy Ball.
“We want to be seen in other places other than the ball field,” Doyle said. “I am proud of these guys. We love them. We pat them on the back and we ask them to act like you want to be here and remember where you came from.”
Today is March 13, 2014. Make the best of it and strive to make March 14 better. Make it a Jerick McKinnon-caliber day.

Enoch Autry is the managing editor of the Sylvania Telephone.