Tim Willman thinks his dream of playing in the National Football League is one step closer to reality.
The 2009 graduate of Reservoir High School got his first official taste of the professional game May 14-18, as he wore No. 59 during the Jacksonville Jaguars rookie mini-camp.
Willman, a recent graduate from the University of Connecticut, says it was a positive experience.
"I definitely opened the coaches' eyes," said Willman, who is hoping his performance either earns him a contract or an invite to a preseason training camp this summer. "I'm very pleased with the way I performed. Looking back there's no, 'If I could go back, I would do this.' No, none of that. Now it's just a numbers game, so we'll see."
It has been a long journey for Willman, who didn't start playing football until his freshman year of high school. But one of his junior varsity coaches and later his varsity coach, Sean Jones, said there were obvious signs back then that he could excel.
"He was bigger than most of the kids we had," said Jones, who is the varsity football coach at Reservoir along with Bryan Cole. "But other than that, it was how hard he worked and how coachable he was. He was always working as hard as he could to get better."
Willman was the first football player from Reservoir to earn a full scholarship to a Division I school, but he had to wait his time to earn significant playing time.
He redshirted his first season at Connecticut and saw sparse playing time during the next two seasons. His first start came during the last game of his redshirt junior season and he started every game of his senior season at defensive end.
Willman, 23, is hoping that the ride isn't over.
He signed in late December with agent Jonathan Herbst of Pro Football Syndicate in Baltimore, which represents the Baltimore Ravens' Lardarius Webb, along with Baltimore native and Cleveland Browns third-round draft pick Terrence West.
A couple weeks later, the 6-foot-4 and 265-pound lineman began training as many as three times a day, six days a week at the Sport and Speed Institute in Ashburn, Va. with trainer Justin Kavanaugh.
The training helped him have a "really good" pro day in early March, where he bench pressed 225 pounds 26 times, jumped 30.5 inches in his vertical and ran his 40 in 4.7 seconds in front of scouts from 29 of the 32 NFL teams.
As he waited for the NFL Draft in early May, Willman moved back home to Fulton and got a part-time job with a moving company. He also spent time working out at Future Fitness in Crofton with trainer Mac James, alongside guys with NFL experience like Arizona Cardinals linebacker Darnell Dockett and former Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (Morgan State grad).
The draft came and went without Willman being selected, but on May 12, just two days after the final pick was made, he got a phone call from the Jaguars.
"[I had] thoughts running through [my] head," he said, regarding not being drafted. "But [the Jaguars] actually talked through my agent so my agent called me and told me. Then [the Jaguars] called me later and gave me the travel plans and everything."
It was just a couple days later that he was on a flight to Jacksonville, taking a physical and attending team meetings.
His top priority at the onset was learning as much of the playbook as he could.
"[Coaches] are always evaluating you when you're there, but they especially see how quickly you can pick up the playbook," Willman said. "You don't want to be misaligned or miss your assignments or anything."
During practice itself, as a defensive end, the goal was simple: beat your man and get to third overall draft pick, quarterback Blake Bortles. Well, sort of.
"[Coaches said] don't even get near [Bortles]," Willman said. "I beat the [offensive tackle] a few times, and you really just have to stop" before getting in Bortles' vicinity.
By the end of the mini camp, Willman says he thought he had left a good enough impression to get an invite to training camp or even sign a contract. He added that he got good feedback from some defensive coaches.
"I was strong, I was fast, I was moving well," he said. "I was very satisfied."
Despite the strong showing, there's still a lot up in the air.
His agent continues to shop him around to other teams. He said he could get an invite to training camp anytime between now and preseason training camp in August.
During the process, Willman has been in contact with former Connecticut teammate and Washington Redskins wide receiver Nick Williams, who was signed as an undrafted free agent himself last year.
"He told me if I perform well, [teams] will be making all kinds of cuts in the summer and it's all a numbers game because they can only have a certain amount of guys on the roster," Willman said. "He was in the same situation and it's working out for him."
Willman's focus is simply keeping himself in the best possible shape so that if the invite comes, he will be ready.
"[The Jaguars have] 90 guys on the roster now, but they'll be cutting it down, doing some work," he said. "So I'm just waiting for that call."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun