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Eastern Washington University Football
Sports >  EWU football

Cancellation of pro day shifts course for Eastern Washington products aiming for NFL

UPDATED: Sat., March 28, 2020

Eastern Washington tight end Jayce Gilder,  left, celebrates after scoring a touchdown off a fake kick during the first half of the 2018 FCS Championship on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington tight end Jayce Gilder, left, celebrates after scoring a touchdown off a fake kick during the first half of the 2018 FCS Championship on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Eastern Washington football players who’ve been training vigorously since the end of last fall to impress scouts – many who’ve hired agents and personal trainers to help heighten their chances – are faced with uncertainty and fear they won’t get an adequate evaluation.

Dehonta Hayes, a hard-hitting All-Big Sky Conference safety who led EWU with 115 tackles last year, is one of them.

Hayes (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) believes he’s at least worthy of a free-agent contact, but is in limbo as April’s NFL draft approaches.

“It’s kind or nerve-wracking,” Hayes said. “You really don’t know what to expect next, and if (NFL scouts) see your workout videos, who knows if it will be enough for them to determine anything?

“I’m afraid the smaller-school guys will take a hit to their draft stock because of this.”

If former Eastern Washington linebacker Samson Ebukam wasn’t able to exhibit his Herculean frame and off-the-charts athleticism at EWU’s 2017 pro day, his path to the NFL would have been bumpier.

Ebukam, a fourth-round draft pick who has since earned several starts for the Los Angeles Rams, wasn’t invited to the annual NFL combine, a skills and strength display designated for the country’s top NFL prospects.

The Rams still intended on taking the 6-3, 245-pound FCS All-American as an undrafted free agent until they saw him up close in Cheney, where Ebukam’s pro day numbers included 4.4-second 40-yard dash, 40-inch vertical and a 10-foot, 10-inch broad jump.

That was ultimately the difference between being a fringe rookie vying for a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad and landing in a favorable position.

Ebukam is one of dozens of under-the-radar gems who upped his stock because of an impressive pro day, an event that was recently canceled at schools around the country amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

NFL scouts must now analyze workouts remotely via video, which can present hurdles if players can’t also present verified testing numbers.

Agents are sending the combine-like videos of their clients to scouts and decision-makers.

“Those guys are relying on their pro day to solidify themselves for scouts and teams to go back and recheck the film based on pro day performance,” NFL agent James Paul told Sports Illustrated. “So all the boxes for these guys now are not going to be checked off.”

Hayes has attended three pro day-like events, including one held off campus in Spokane for a few former EWU players, including All-American center Spencer Blackburn, tight end Jayce Gilder and defensive end Jim Townsend.

Since then, Washington invoked the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” mandate to help curb the spread of the virus, which also resulted in the closure of gyms and other workout facilities.

When Hayes, a Tacoma product, recently drove to Oregon to train just before the state imposed a similar rule, it soon shut down its gyms, forcing him to have an outside workout.

Hayes said his best marks included a 4.4 40-yard dash, an 11-foot broad jump, a 39-inch vertical and 19 bench-press reps of 225 pounds, numbers that stick out among safeties at the NFL combine.

Maintaining that strength has been a challenge over the last two weeks because he hasn’t had much weight-room access, per the state’s restrictions.

“I don’t know what to expect now,” Hayes said. “And how are we supposed to stay in shape if everything is in lockdown?”

Gilder is faced with the same dilemma.

Gilder, a 6-4, 245-pound team captain last fall, has the size, strength and athleticism worthy of a next-level look, hauling in 54 passes in his career for 634 yards and 13 touchdowns.

He recently posted a video of EWU’s de facto pro day in Spokane in which he recorded 26 bench-press reps of 225 pounds, a mark that would have ranked No. 1 among tight ends at the NFL combine.

“This is definitely a frustrating situation,” Gilder said.

“I have been working toward the pro day since Thanksgiving, but right now I don’t know really what to expect.”

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