Former Missouri football stars try to impress NFL scouts at Pro Day

With his blazing speed and leaping prowess, wide receiver Will Franklin stood out Thursday during the series of drills and tests.
Thursday, March 6, 2008 | 9:46 p.m. CST; updated 10:45 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Former MU lineman Lorenzo Williams performs a vertical jump drill in front of several NFL scouts Thursday at Daniel J. Devine Pavilion.

COLUMBIA — With team logos emblazoned on their jackets and briefcases, more than a dozen NFL scouts filed into the Daniel J. Devine Pavilion on Thursday. They sat down in the bleachers, waiting to inspect former Missouri players at Pro Day.

Fourteen athletes were trying to impress the clipboard-toting guests. At first, the pavilion was as silent as a classroom packed with test-taking students.

Then Will Franklin started to work out.

The former MU wide receiver put on a show with his athletic feats, and probably boosted his status in April’s NFL draft. While Franklin had already performed for scouts at February’s NFL Combine, players such as Lorenzo Williams were hoping to get noticed at their first workout. A few others will have to wait two weeks for their first shot.

The buzz began when Franklin approached the starting line for the broad jump. He stood in place, swung his arms and flew forward. He seemed to hang in the air for a moment before landing. A scout checked the tape and announced the results — 10 feet, 11 inches.

The spectacle continued when the star from St. Louis stepped up for his vertical jump. Franklin looked up at the pole with plastic measuring flags attached to it. He leaped, hovered and swiped the flags with his hand to mark the height of his jump. A scout yelled out the result — 40½ inches. The best mark at the combine was 39 inches. Franklin found offensive coordinator Dave Christensen and hugged him.

Franklin’s smile was shining like dollar signs after the workout. Compared with the nation’s star receivers, his statistics were subpar this season after sharing the billing with a talented receiving corps. But starting at the combine, Franklin has distinguished himself. He was invited to the elite event along with cornerback Darnell Terrell and tight end Martin Rucker.

Franklin was blazing in the 40-yard dash last month, recording a time of 4.37 seconds. It was tied for the second-best mark among wide receivers. He had no reason to run another 40 on Thursday.

“Never again,” he said. “I’m officially in the books.”

Along with the broad and vertical jumps, Franklin participated in receiver drills and other tests Thursday. His work has earned him recognition. He has already been invited to individual workouts in 10 NFL cities, including Kansas City and St. Louis.

While numerous teams court Franklin, other players are also trying to emerge from the pack.

“I don’t need 30 guys saying, ‘He’s great,’” said Williams, the Tigers’ former defensive tackle. “I just need one guy saying I’m a great player.”

Williams said he doesn’t know where he stands. At best, he’s heard he could get drafted late in the fifth round. At worst, he will definitely sign as a rookie free agent.

The scouts’ secrecy muddies the market for prospects such as Williams, tailback Tony Temple and center Adam Spieker. Scouts guard their information like stockbrokers. They didn’t even tell players their times in the 40 and other drills on Thursday.

Although Williams achieved four personal records in those tests, the 300-pounder remained humble.

“I can’t say it went great,” he said. “I’ll never say that.”

Williams and others will get another chance to blow away the scouts at the school’s second Pro Day on March 20. But it will be the first chance for other players — like Rucker and safety Pig Brown. The tight end is recovering from a hamstring injury. He did not participate in the combine and did not attend Pro Day.

Brown was there, however, chatting with scouts and former teammates. The safety ruptured his right Achilles tendon against Iowa State last October and finally ran for the first time on Feb. 6. He said he plans to perform for scouts when they return on March 20.

But Franklin won’t have to wait that long for feedback. Beaming with confidence, he was eager to hear the buzz continue.

“Now I can’t wait to get back to my phone to see what guys are trying to contact me,” Franklin said.

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