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Michigan State Pro Day: Kenneth Walker says “I am going to make my opportunity count”

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A total of 15 Spartans participated in a series of measurements and drills for NFL coaches and scouts on Michigan State’s campus.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

When most college students are finished with their degrees and are ready to enter “the real world,” they often go through a series of important steps. They polish their resumes, research employers, go to a job fair or two and hopefully schedule a few interviews with the hope of getting a job offer.

For a certain subset of college students who are high-level Division I football players, that potential “job offer” will come in the form of the 2022 NFL Draft in late April (or shortly thereafter as an undrafted free agent signee). The resumes of those players include game film, and for those players who are lucky enough, the job fair and interviews come to them in the form of an event such as Michigan State University’s pro day.

The event was held inside of Michigan State’s Skandalaris Football Center on March 16. A total of 15 departing Spartans participated in the event:

  • Matt Allen, offensive lineman
  • A.J. Arcuri, offensive lineman
  • Drew Beesley, defensive end
  • Blake Bueter, offensive lineman
  • Luke Campbell, offensive lineman
  • Matt Coghlin, kicker
  • Noah Harvey, linebacker
  • Connor Heyward, fullback/tight end/H-back
  • Kevin Jarvis, offensive lineman
  • Drew Jordan, defensive end
  • Jalen Nailor, wide receiver
  • Jacub Panasiuk, defensive end
  • Anothy Russo, quarterback
  • Cody Waddell, punter
  • Kenneth Walker III, running back

In addition, a few other familiar faces participated, including former legacy Spartan receiver Hunter Rison (who finished his eligibility at Grand Valley State this past year) and former Spartan defensive back T.J. Harrell, who most recently played at Florida Tech.

The day began in the weight room where height, weight, hand size, wing span, etc. were measured by a group of NFL scouts, while the other scouts and coaches furiously took notes. Representatives from all 32 NFL franchises were on hand, as well as scouts from the XFL and Canadian Football League.

Then, the testing began, starting with the vertical jump.

Several Spartans were able to surpass 30 inches, including Arcuri (33.5 inches), Jordan (31 inches), Russo (31.5 inches) and Panasiuk (33 inches), but Harvey posted the best performance with a 34-and-a-half inch vertical jump.

However, it should be noted that several of Michigan State’s players who already posted good numbers at the NFL Combine earlier in March opted not to participate in the vertical jump. Walker, Nailor, and Heyward all skipped this portion of the testing.

The next test was perhaps the most entertaining of the day: the bench press. A total of 10 Spartans participated, but the entire team was raucously supportive.

Beesley (ignore the typo in the above tweet) posted the best performance with 30 reps of 225 pounds, with Harvey (29) and Arcuri (27) just behind him. Heyward was able to complete 18 reps, while Nailor completed 14.

But, there was another special moment during the bench press drill. Luke Campbell, who is not planning to pursue an NFL career, participated in the event in order to raise money and awareness for a charity called The Cure Starts Now. Campbell completed 21 reps of 225 pounds.

For those who are interesting in donating to the cause, which supports research and families battling pediatric brain cancer, click here.

Once the testing in the weight room was complete, the players and scouts moved into the practice field area for a series of agility and speed tests. Several of the players completed the broad jump, 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle.

Here are some photos and videos of those drills in action:

For these measurements, there was no official times posted or metrics posted during the event. Each scout/coach measured the times with their own stop watch, while taking copious amounts of notes.

When the testing portion of the day was complete, several players were asked to complete a few more position-specific drills. Heyward and Walker were both put through a series of running back agility drills.

Nailor, Heyward and Walker were then asked to show off their pass catching skills. As a bonus, Russo got a chance to show off his arm strength and accuracy.

Finally, the offensive linemen were asked to perform a series of drills, both individually, and as a unit.

On Thursday, the Michigan State football twitter account did release the official measurements from each event for each player. Those results are shown in the thread below (click on the first tweet to see the rest of the players after Arcuri).

After over two hours of testing and measurements, a select number of players and one staff member spoke to the media to talk about their experience at pro day.

The media had several minutes to talk to current general manager and executive director of Player Personnel and recruiting, Saeed Khalif, who joined the Michigan State program last summer after spending several years with Wisconsin. Khalif gave the media some perspective on the importance of pro day and how it relates to the overall structure of the Michigan State program that has been retooled by head coach Mel Tucker.

“Most of these kids grow up wanting to play in the NFL,” Khalif said. “So when you recruit them, they want to know how your program will help them develop to be in the NFL. So, as you’re recruiting them, you want to say you have coaches that can teach you how to get there, you have a strength staff that will help develop you to get there.

“So, it’s really about what you turn into as a football player,” Khalif continued, “But the opportunity is real when they see (events such as) pro day.”

Khalif also gave some interesting perspective on his impression of Michigan State from the point of view of someone who spent a lot of time at a rival Big Ten school.

“It’s totally different than what was said about it previously,” Khalif said. “It’s all been positive. I love the diverse climate here. There’s a high energy here. I love the work ethic here. The town is green for real. Campus is green for real, like grass. And I mean this is a wonderful campus experience for any kid that wants to go to college.

“This is where you want your kid to go,” he continued. “If you are looking for the college experience. This gives it all to them.”

When the media had a chance to talk to Connor Heyward, he clearly felt that the way Coach Tucker runs his program has better-prepared him to have a shot at the NFL.

“Coach Tuck talks about the NFL all the time,” Heyward said. “Every day we watch NFL clips and NFL cut-ups. We listen to NFL guys talk about their process...When we are watching tape, we are watching how to practice with good tempo, good eyes, good leverage, just everything. Pros knows what to do.”

As for Heyward’s potential NFL future, his experience at the NFL Combine and at Michigan State’s pro day have given him a better feel for how he might be used, and in which city he might land.

“It’s cool listening how (NFL teams) would use me,” Heyward said. “Some teams are thinking H-back or tight end, and some and thinking fullback or something. I’ve done that at Michigan State and it’s nothing that I’m not new to. I feel like you can always work on all parts your game and technique travels.”

As for Heyward’s potential NFL destination, he had this to say.

“I meet with the (Los Angeles) Rams after this (event) today,” Heyward said. “I met with the (Houston) Texans last night. I met with the (New Orleans) Saints before that. Then the (New York) Giants, I (will) meet with tomorrow at 5 p.m. I’ve been meeting with probably four or five teams every week and I know this next month I’ll be a little busy flying for some interviews and meeting on Zoom as well.

“I know my draw could be late day two or early day three,” Heyward continued. “That’s what I’m kind of hearing right now. I think the future and my career is only going to get better.”

Former Spartan receiver Jalen Nailor is perhaps likely to hear his name called before Heyward does. When Nailor had a chance to talk to the media, he talked about the things that he has been working on in an attempt to improve his draft position.

“(I have been working on) mainly being consistent, catching the ball, get in and out of breaks well,” Nailor said. “(I am) just trying to fine tune everything.”

As for his draft position, Nailor merely said, “I’m sure it’s going to be a nervous couple of days.”

But a lot of the focus on pro day was on the Spartans’ star running back, Kenneth Walker III, who won the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation. Walker was all smiles and clearly enjoyed being back on campus.

“It was good to come back and see everybody,” Walker said. “I’m excited to see the trainers, coaches, and most importantly, my teammates.”

Most draft analysts expect Walker to be a late first-round or second-round pick, and possibly the first running back selected. When asked about this, the soft-spoken and always humble Walker said the following.

“There are a lot of great backs,” Walker said. “I would love to be taken first, obviously. But wherever I’m taken I am going to make my opportunity count and go as hard as I can.”

As for his experience at pro day and at the NFL Combine interacting with the scouts and coaches, Walker said this:

“(I’ve gotten) a lot of questions,” Waker said. “But it’s been fun meeting with different teams you watch on TV, like as a kid. Being able to meet with those teams and talk to them about football is a fun experience.”

As for which team might wind up calling Walker’s name, he was a bit evasive.

“I have talked to a few teams,” Walker simply said.

When asked if he had talked to any team more than others, he simply replied “about the same.”

But Michigan State’s pro day was not just about the players who will likely get drafted. It is also about the players who will have a chance to make a roster as a free agent or perhaps even play professionally in the XFL or in Canada. Players such as Drew Beesley, A.J. Arcuri and Noah Harvey all had an opportunity to impress NFL scouts as well on Wednesday.

“I did a lot better than I anticipated for sure,” former captain and walk-on Drew Beesley said.

“My mentality was just to perform and do the best I can and see what happens from that point,” he continued. “As a (former) walk-on, you never know what’s going to happen and you can use that to your advantage.”

The NFL Draft will take place from April 28 to April 30 in Las Vegas.


Walker’s Pro Day Remarks

Nailor’s Pro Day Remarks

Heyward’s Pro Day Remarks

Arcuri’s Pro Day Remarks