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Eastern Washington University Football
Sports >  EWU football

Big Sky Conference products hope to get NFL call

UPDATED: Fri., April 24, 2020

Former Eastern Washington safety Dehonta Hayes has tried to make quarantine fun.

The All-Big Sky Conference safety has posted several videos to his social media accounts, including clips of him roller skating in his apartment, conveying the terror of being late for morning weightlifting, and his stunning resemblance to All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Hayes, who has 144,000 followers on the TikTok video platform, has used the rest of his time preparing his body for a potential NFL contract.

The coronavirus pandemic derailed the draft process for many Big Sky standouts hoping to get picked up in the late rounds of this weekend’s NFL draft or as a free agent, as a lack of face-to-face evaluation by scouts due to cancellation of pro days has led to more small-school product uncertainty than usual.

Hayes and a few EWU teammates, including All-American center Spencer Blackburn, All-Big Sky tight end Jayce Gilder and All-Big Sky running back Antoine Custer hope to get a call Saturday night, although the number of undrafted free agents is expected to be noticeably lower than previous years.

EWU has had multiple players sign free-agent contracts at the conclusion of recent drafts, including last year when receiver Nsimba Webster (Los Angeles Rams) and defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli (Denver Broncos) signed, and defensive back Josh Lewis and linebacker Ketner Kupp were invited to rookie camps.

In 2017, when the Rams drafted receiver Cooper Kupp in the third round and linebacker Samson Ebukam in the fourth, the San Francisco 49ers picked up receiver Kendrick Bourne as a free agent.

Bourne has since been one of the 49ers’ main targets, caught passes in a Super Bowl and recently signed a one-year, $3.2 million contract.

Hayes, who has been recently interviewed by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills, hopes he and other Football Championship Subdivision players are afforded similar opportunities despite the unprecedented predraft process.

“I really don’t know what to expect. It’s a really weird draft this year,” said Hayes, who had 115 tackles and two interceptions as a senior. “Seeing a player in person (at pro day) plays a huge role. If that happened, I know for sure I would get drafted.”

Before the pandemic, Jeff Cotton, an All-American receiver at Idaho, had face-to-face interviews with several scouts in January, the week he played in the Hula Bowl all-star game in Hawaii.

Cotton, a physical player who lined up inside and outside for the Vandals, hauled in 87 passes for 1,134 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019.

In his de facto pro day in Missoula last month, he said he clocked 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 4.21 in the short shuttle and his vertical leap measured 36 1/2 inches.

The Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers and Washington Redskins have shown the most interest, said Cotton, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior college transfer.

He figures to be a late-round pick or free-agent pickup.

“It’s fun to experience this, and I hope a team believes in me the way I believe in myself,” Cotton said. “I can play inside, outside, wingback or special teams. I’ll do whatever I can to help a team win.”

Former Idaho offensive tackle Noah Johnson (6-4, 311), a two-time All-Big Sky selection and an All-Sun Belt pick in 2017, and All-Big Sky defensive back Lloyd Hightower have also hired agents and hope to sign with an NFL team this weekend.

Montana’s all-time leader in receptions – Lake City High product Jerry Louie-McGee – also hired an agent but doesn’t expect to get drafted or called to sign a free-agent contract.

Louie-McGee, who caught 230 career passes for the Grizzlies for 2,277 yards and 11 touchdowns, is hoping for a rookie camp tryout.

At 5-9 and 170 pounds and in the second-tier of Division I football, Louie-McGee had hoped that he could impress scouts with his quick feet (a 4.4 40 time) and athleticism at a pro day that was canceled.

“I trained hard for pro day and was really (upset) when it got canceled,” Louie-McGee said. “But I understand why they did, to keep people safe.”

Louie-McGee, an All-Big Sky punt returner, is back home in Coeur d’Alene, where he continues to train.

“Most of the scouts look at your film, see how you produced,” he said. “But they get to see your speed, strength and personality up close. And with FCS players, they’ll question the level of play when evaluating you. I just hope for a tryout or a CFL opportunity.”

Of the 337 players invited to the NFL combine in early March, 12 were from the FCS level. Two were from the Big Sky, including standout Montana linebacker and Buck Buchanan Award winner Dante Olsen and All-American tight end Charlie Taumoepeau from Portland State.

Weaver still on the board

California linebacker and Gonzaga Prep product Evan Weaver – the 2019 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year – hopes to hear his name called Saturday.

Weaver, who led the nation in tackles last season with 182, is projected to go anywhere from the fourth to seventh rounds, according to several pundits.

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