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Fifteen NFL hopefuls participate in Washington State’s pro day

WSU offensive lineman Cole Madison, left, runs through drills during practice on Aug. 6, 2016, at Sacajawea Junior High School in Lewiston. Madison was one of several recent WSU players to participate on pro day on Thursday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Washington State’s Pro Day Thursday gave 15 recent Cougar football players an opportunity to bond with teammates one last time.

The event took place in the familiar surroundings of the WSU Football Complex weight room and the practice bubble and was only tangentially related to football but could weigh significantly on the players’ future as pro football players.

The annual predraft ritual of weighing, measuring, running, bench pressing and position drills brought scouts from most NFL teams to Pullman in what offensive lineman Cole Madison acknowledged was a “meat show,” although the players take advantage of the opportunity. Many have been preparing for NFL tryouts away from Pullman and were pleased to return to catch up with teammates and trade stories about working out for teams, Madison said.

Mutual encouragement was the dominant theme, although it shared the room at times with anxiety. Defensive back Robert Taylor’s purple-haired agent, Rose Blakelock, watched her client run a 40-yard dash and said, “I thought he was fast. Did he look fast? So much depends on the 40.”

The scouts were not announcing times and totals for public consumption. But Blakelock said Taylor was happy to have posted a 39-inch vertical leap. He also had the best performance in the standing long jump, 10 feet, 3 inches, and he had 14 reps in the 225-pound bench press. Taylor’s goal, Blakelock said, was “to stay in the mix of what people were doing at the (NFL) combine.”

Numbers similar to what athletes invited to the combine put up might get Taylor a free-agent contract, she said.

One of a handful of women agents, Blakelock, an attorney, said she began representing football players in her early 60s.

“I thought I’d try something different,” she said. “A lot of young men don’t want somebody who looks like their granny.”

Blakelock doesn’t call to mind too many grandmothers. Her clients are all referred by other clients.

“I’m running this as a little family business,” she said, adding that she is representing two other players this year.

The biggest player at the event was offensive lineman Cody O’Connell, officially measured at 6-8 and 352 pounds. The smallest was receiver Robert Lewis (5-9, 160). O’Connell benched 225 pounds 28 times, the most of anyone. Lewis managed five reps. Six months removed from anterior cruciate ligament knee surgery, he was pleased with his performance.

“I wanted to show I was comfortable with my knee,” Lewis said. “Cutting on it felt good.”

Lewis said he was clocked at 4.45 in the 40, and he expects his bench press total will increase when he regains the 15 pounds he lost after surgery.

He caught everything quarterback Luke Falk threw to him. In one of the most impressive and football-like moves of the day, Lewis made a diving reception. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and he popped up from the turf and craned his neck to examine an ugly turf burn on his shoulder.

“I don’t really feel it right now,” he said. “I’m sure when the water hits it, it’s going to burn.”

Madison was measured at 6-5, 308. Having worked out at the combine, he was happy to let his 40 time of 5.3 and 26 bench press reps stand for him. But he went through position drills in Pullman. Madison also has individual workouts scheduled with Tampa Bay and Buffalo.

Hercules Mata’afa also settled for being measured and doing drills and a 60-yard shuttle run at pro day. At 6-2, 253, he is being looked at as a linebacker and defensive lineman.

“I wanted to do some position drills in case any coaches wanted to see it,” he said.

Mata’afa must have impressed the scouts with a blinding fast hand strike on a dummy during an agility drill. He also said at the combine he felt he demonstrated he could move well enough to play linebacker.

“I showed I could flip my hips and move around in space,” he said.

Falk plans to go through the entire pro day regimen later at Utah State. But he showed up to throw in Pullman to help his teammates, giving them accurate passes “without too much velocity.” He was also at the combine.

“You are evaluated every second of every day there,” Falk said.

That includes an interview in which he was asked to describe himself as either a dog or cat.

“I’m loyal,” Falk said, choosing dog.

The workouts “are about 2 percent” of what NFL executives base personnel decisions on, Falk said.

“At the end of the day, most scouts look at film,” he says. “Film and the interview process. That’s where a lot of the decisions are made.”