East Lansing — There was a reunion and a homecoming feel as nine Michigan State football players showed their stuff to the pros on Monday.
The players sometimes enjoyed and sometimes endured a remarkable run of team and personal highs and lows over the past several years.
The drills, officiated and observed by 52 personnel members of all 32 NFL teams, represented a chance to chase a new roller coaster in hopes of becoming a pro. The first MSU player selected at the April 25-27 NFL draft in Nashville will extend the program’s streak to 79 straight years of draftees, the third-longest in college football. Three CFL teams also attended the event at the Duffy Daugherty Building.
All but one of Monday’s nine players won a Big Ten championship and made a College Football Playoff appearance in 2015, but each also fought through a three-win campaign the following year. Rivalry wins, bowl losses and campus tumult also marked their time as Spartans.
“I think they all have an opportunity,” coach Mark Dantonio said after the workouts. “I’m just really a guy that will try to help them in any way I can, whatever that would be. They’re sort of on to the next thing: They’ve got their agents, they’re working out wherever they’re working out.”
The personal stories are compelling: Wide receiver Felton Davis is battling back from a torn Achilles that ended his senior season early, linebacker Jon Reschke earned his way back into the locker room after a racially charged text message surfaced, and cornerback Justin Layne made his way back to campus after a rocky exit.
The most highly regarded prospect on hand was Layne, the 6-foot-3 cornerback who ended his junior season early, choosing to skip the Redbox Bowl after announcing his exit.
Alongside safety Khari Willis, Layne did drills under the direction of Titans defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs and Lions defensive backs coach Brian Stewart.
Before taking the field, Layne and Willis were tutored by former Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, now a defensive assistant with Pittsburgh.
The pair marked 12 defensive backs sent to the NFL Draft Combine since Dantonio, a former defensive back at South Carolina, took the reins in 2007.
“He reminds me a lot of Trae Waynes really in a lot of ways,” Dantonio said of Layne and the 2015 first-round selection by Minnesota. “He’s long, can really catch the football, you guys saw that. He’s got good raw speed, and he can run and jump. And he can tackle, and I think if you can tackle at this level, good things are ahead of you."
Dantonio said he met with Layne before the workouts and said the pair share a great relationship.
“I was disappointed in the fact that he didn’t play the bowl game, I’m not pulling away from that aspect,” Dantonio said. “He set a precedent, so there’s got to be some kind of consequences, but his consequences don’t have to involve pro day. We want to allow him the opportunity to show out here and make a living.”
Layne, who ran 4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, did not participate in timing drills and could be a second-day selection in the second or third round.
Jackson's Willis ran the 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drills, events he did not run in the combine.
After declaring for the draft later than most prospects, running back LJ Scott elected not to run the 40 at the combine.
That made his dash Monday among the most anticipated drills.
Wearing bright orange shoes, Scott ran in 4.63 seconds on his first try, according to hand-timing by The Detroit News.
MSU does not release official times and scouts on hand perform their own hand testing.
“I think I did decent, but you can always get better in everything you do,” Scott said. “It was a great experience and one I’ll always remember.”
A time in the mid-4.6s would have put Scott in the bottom third of running back prospects earlier this month at the combine.
“I was hoping for 4.5, I don’t know what I ran yet,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, I guess it’s all about the film. Game speed is different than just lining up and running full speed down a straight line. No matter what I ran, I was happy to be out here for this opportunity.”
Scott, who scored the winning touchdown in the 2015 Big Ten championship but endured injuries and personal struggles later in his career, said he will train in East Lansing up until the draft.
“I think he has NFL talent,” Dantonio said. “I wish him the best.”
Dantonio singled out tight end Matt Sokol when asked who might have helped his case on Monday.
“I thought Matt Sokol did a nice job out there. He ran crisp routes, caught the ball very well,” Dantonio said of the Rochester Adams product.
Sokol caught passes from former MSU graduate transfer quarterback Mickey Macius, and the tight end said he thought he surprised scouts with his routes and fluid running.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Sokol said after the workout. “You’ve been working on thinking about this for a long time from January, watching the combine, knowing that today was your day to perform and have that experience. It’s a little bit of a weight lifted off, it’s over, and you just left it all out there, did the best I could, was happy with how I did, and I think a lot of the guys around here feel that way, too.”
Sokol had 31 receptions and two touchdowns in his career, totaling eight receptions and 100 receiving yards as a senior.
His 23 reps in the bench press would have ranked second among tight ends at the combine. Sokol notched a 30.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 9-feet, 4-inches.
Michigan State football players ran through drills for NFL scouts at the Duffy Daugherty Football facility Monday. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Not quite yet
Davis was measured but did not do drills on Monday, but he’s progressing on adding strength to his calf after tearing his left Achilles on Oct. 20 against Michigan.
“I’m not sure exactly the timeline,” Davis said about possibly working out for teams before the draft. “It’s been a lot of strengthening and running. I’ve finally been able to run on treadmills and running out on the field.
“It makes you hungry. It’s hard as a competitor to sit here and watch because you know you can do everything everybody else is doing, maybe better. The whole process just taught you how to be patient. You can’t plant a seed and think that the flower is going to grow in a day.”
Limited to six games by a left elbow injury, offensive lineman David Beedle sought to show off his health on Monday.
After missing six games late in the season but returning to play the regular season finale against Rutgers in limited action, Beedle did 26 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and ran in the mid-5 seconds for the 40.
“I was obviously trying to get back and play with my brothers,” Clarkston's Beedle said. “It took a little longer than I hoped, but I think I showed today that I’m healthy now and my elbow feels good.”
Linebacker Andrew Dowell had the longest broad jump of the day at 9 feet, 10 inches. Defensive tackle Gerald Owens had 19 reps on the bench press.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.