Fresh off a workout March 13, Jared Mayden sat at a table inside a bustling Mal Moore Athletic building filling out paperwork for what he anticipated would be one of the biggest days of his life — Alabama’s annual Pro Day, originally scheduled for Tuesday.
But outside the safe and insulated confines of the Crimson Tide’s football complex, things were changing rapidly as collegiate and professional sports across the country quickly reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic by halting all operations for the foreseeable future 10 days ago.
In fact, that same day, the NFL issued a memo prohibiting team personnel from traveling or performing any in-personal draft evaluations with hopeful draft prospects like Mayden.
It wasn’t long after the NFL’s announcement that an Alabama support staffer notified Mayden and the dozen or so other Crimson Tide prospects that the team’s Pro Day, which was originally slated for Tuesday before being temporarily pushed back to April 15, would be cancelled this year.
“I was devastated. I’m not going to lie, because the Pro Day was going to be a good opportunity to show (NFL teams) my skill set,” Mayden told the Montgomery Advertiser by phone last Friday as he drove to his Texas home still largely uncertain what the future would hold.
For Mayden, who surprisingly wasn’t among the 10 Alabama players invited to February’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis, it was also his chance to show NFL scouts his sub-4.5 second speed in the 40-yard dash.
“That’s something that, especially with the safety class this year, there aren’t that many versatile safeties … that can run a 4.3 and show they have the speed to play corner, and I have that speed,” Mayden said. “That was something I was looking forward to (showing), and now I don’t even get a chance to go out there and get it, or even go out there and fail. It’s kind of like (that opportunity has) just been taken away, like you’ll never know.”
With the NFL draft still tentatively scheduled for April 23-25, Mayden’s circumstance has become to norm for the thousands of NFL prospects across the country that have seen their previously well-planned pre-draft process thrown into complete turmoil.
Now, as the country shifts into a state of recommended stay-at-home self-quarantines, with many businesses — including gyms and popular training facilities — temporarily closed down by government mandates, draft hopefuls like Mayden are now forced to figure out how to best impress NFL teams that can no longer evaluate them in person.
“It’s just a lost opportunity,” Mayden said. “It’s like you train for months for this one day.”
Much like Mayden, fellow Alabama defensive back Xavier McKinney was eager to show out during Tuesday’s Pro Day after cramps limited him at the NFL Combine, where he ran a less-than-desirable 4.63-second time in the 40-yard dash and didn’t perform any on-field position work for scouts.
“A lot of us were looking forward to Pro Day,” Mayden said. “There’s a couple of solid first-rounders you could say, but even like X (McKinney), he did get to go to the Combine … but this would’ve been an opportunity for him to go out there and solidify himself as the No. 1 safety.”
And in the matter of a couple of days, that opportunity is no more, leaving many still trying to figure out what’s next for them.
During this time, NFL teams have maintained remote contact with most of the prominent draft hopefuls, occasionally checking in and performing interviews that would normally be taking place at their facilities. Mayden said he’s recently spoken with representatives from the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, among others.
“They’re all just trying to figure out who you are since they can’t physically see you, but the coaches are all just trying to adapt in the same way we are,” Mayden said.
Part of that adaption has come in figuring out different ways to catch the attention of NFL scouts.
For fringe Day 3 draft prospects such as versatile Alabama offensive lineman Matt Womack, whose injury-plagued collegiate career admittedly didn’t turn out how the former three-star Mississippi product envisioned, that means a little self-promotion.
Along with a handful of other NFL hopefuls that trained at Total Athletic Performance in South Florida, the massive 6-foot-7 and 326-pound Womack participated in his own personal “Pro Day” last Friday from the Naples-based training facility, where he went through the workout gamut traditionally held at the NFL Combine. A film crew recorded the entire event and Womack said he anticipates the facility sending out copies of his performance to all 32 NFL teams at some point next week.
“We tried to treat it as professional as possible,” said Womack, who started 15 games during his five-year career in Tuscaloosa — most coming at right tackle during Alabama’s 2017 national championship season.
Shortly after his personal “Pro Day” event, Womack posted to social media he ran a hand-held 5-second flat 40-yard dash with a 1.65-second 10-yard split and also put up 26 reps of 225 on the bench press.
“It was kind of a bummer that I didn’t get to go out at Alabama and do it in front of all the scouts,” Womack said Sunday afternoon, “but after my bench press, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much adrenaline flowing through my body in my life. I was completely pumped up, I was feeling myself, I was happy. It felt really good to finally get to perform and do something with the past three months of training that I’ve done.”
Over the next month leading up to the Draft, like many in their position, both Mayden and Womack said they plan to work out alone — or with the help a couple of close friends/trainers — at high school football fields near their hometowns.
A native of Sachse, Texas, Mayden plan be training at a yet-to-be identified Dallas-area high school with longtime trainer Clay Mack, while Womack anticipates training at his high school (Magnolia Heights) in his hometown of Hernando, Mississippi.
“Now everything is really out of your hands. … And it sucks, but at the same time I feel like there’s still stuff I can do,” Mayden said, adding he also intends to send out “raw footage” of his workouts to NFL teams and likely post other video of his training to his personal social media accounts.
Despite the certain uncertainty that lies ahead for both, Mayden and Womack are doing their best to maintain a positive outlook ahead of next month’s NFL Draft, including making tentative plans for how they’re going to watch the three-day event April 23-25 — no matter how it turns out.
“I think that in the end, I’m going to get a chance,” Womack said. “I’m going to get an opportunity and when I get my opportunity I’m going to give it my all and prove to people that I have the ability and the work ethic to get it done.”