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Haynos reflects on combine experience

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Former Maryland tight end Joey Haynos took another step toward his goal of playing in the NFL last month when he participated in the NFL combine in Indianapolis. The following is a four-day rundown of his experience:

Day 1 (Feb. 20)

Haynos wakes up at 4 a.m. to make sure he catches his 7 o'clock flight out of Orlando, Fla. He has been training with renowned strength and speed coach Tom Shaw at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex since early January in preparation for the combine. The training is now complete, and it's time for Haynos to impress the more than 600 NFL personnel in attendance, looking for everything from first-round picks to unsigned free agents.

Haynos' flight stops over in Atlanta, where he runs into a couple of other tight end prospects headed to the combine -- USC's Fred Davis and Michigan State's Kellen Davis. Haynos hadn't previously met the other two tight end prospects, but they all knew of each other. The company is welcome.

The three players land in Indianapolis around 11 a.m. Haynos and about seven other players jump in a shuttle to take the 15-minute ride to their hotel.

This is it. About four-and-a-half years earlier, Haynos walked on at Maryland. Now his four-day test to get to the next level is about to begin.

"I was trying not to think about it, but I was a little nervous," Haynos said, adding that he was getting to know the other athletes as they rode together to the hotel. "The combine's such a big step on the way to getting drafted. It was weighing on my mind a little bit."

Once he arrives at the hotel, Haynos finds out that he'll ironically be rooming with Kellen Davis, whom he had just met for the first time hours earlier in Atlanta. They are among 19 tight ends invited to the combine. Thirteen tight ends were selected in the 2007 NFL draft.

After getting situated, Haynos and the other athletes who reported on the first day -- tight ends, offensive linemen and specialists -- head to the hospital for pre-examinations and X-rays. That takes up most of the afternoon. Next is dinner. Haynos meets up with a friend from high school who is now a scout for the Cleveland Browns.

Finally, around 8 p.m., the interview process begins. Haynos heads to the ballroom of the hotel, where he estimates about 150 to 200 NFL personnel are waiting -- coaches, scouts and others. Haynos and the other players make the rounds in football's version of a job fair.

"They all had tables," Haynos said. "They'll ask you to sit down. Then I'd walk around and another coach would grab me."

So what did they want to know?

"Basically just general information, asking questions about my family and background," Haynos said. "Most of them asked me about football knowledge, some wanted me to draw up some plays and stuff."

Haynos said the most common question was: What is the biggest challenge you've faced? To which he told the story of joining Maryland as a walk-on. The question that caught him most by surprise?

"A coach asked me to tell him a joke," Haynos said, adding that what he came up with probably isn't printable, but it got a laugh.

Three hours later, Haynos has visited about 20 tables.

"It was definitely a new experience," he said. "I wasn't too nervous. I just tried to be honest so it wasn't too bad."

At around 11:30 p.m., Haynos, who has been up for almost 20 hours, finally gets some rest. The four-day test has only just begun.

Day 2 (Feb. 21)

Another early wakeup call. Haynos gets out of bed at 4:45 a.m. for a drug test. After breakfast, it's time for weigh-ins.

Picture yourself at your family doctor getting weighed. The only difference -- 500 scouts are staring at you in your underwear.

"It was quite an experience," Haynos said. "We were like cattle. It was like a meat market."

Haynos weighs in at 259 pounds.

After the weigh-ins, players move on to the physicals. This is probably the most overlooked part of the combine. While NFL Network televises the athletic tests, they're probably not as important as some might think. After all, coaches have film of the players on the field from their college games. The medical tests allow teams to have their own doctors examine athletes. With millions of dollars being paid to rookies, teams want to know they're not investing in damaged goods.

Haynos goes through eight different physicals -- a regular one, another for eyes and ears and six different rooms of orthopedic physicals. Each room has five to six teams represented with about two to three doctors per team, meaning almost 20 people examining him at once.

"At one point, I had a doctor on my left ankle, right knee and both of my shoulders," Haynos said. "I was literally being pulled in every direction."

And if they don't like what they see, the athlete is sent to the hospital for an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a process that can take about three hours, Haynos said.

Everything checks out fine. Haynos grabs something to eat, meets with reporters and heads back to his room for a nap.

The evening schedule is the same as the first day. Haynos meets with teams and coaches that he didn't get to talk to the day before. He estimates he met with almost every NFL team during the two sessions.

Around 10:30 p.m., it's time for bed. The combine is halfway done and Haynos has yet to have a test on the football field.

"I felt I had been doing a good job with the interviews," he said. "We had the bench press the next day so it was time to start focusing on that a little bit."

Day 3 (Feb. 22)

Haynos catches up on some much-needed sleep since he doesn't have to be anywhere until 9 a.m. The combine is not as fast-paced as it might look on TV.

"It's a bunch of sitting around and doing nothing," Haynos said. "You have to be somewhere. Then you sit around and wait. I did a lot of that."

After the waiting is over with, Haynos takes part in one of the most talked-about parts of the combine: the Wonderlic test. It seems almost every year, a low Wonderlic score for a top prospect is leaked, and sports fans and the media debate whether the test means anything in terms of NFL success. In 2006, Titans quarterback Vince Young reportedly scored a six out of 50.

According to Haynos, players are given 12 minutes to answer 50 questions. He had taken the Wonderlic twice before the combine to prepare. Haynos, who graduated from Maryland with an Economics degree and a 2.8 grade-point average, said the questions started easy and then got more difficult.

An example of an easy one:

What number month is December?

A. 8
B. 9
C. 10
D. 11
E. 12

Haynos said there were SAT-type questions dealing with numbers and algebra. And also verbal questions dealing with synonyms and antonyms.

"It's sort of to see how you think under pressure," Haynos said. "I guess it's of some value or they wouldn't do it. It tests a couple different things -- how many can you answer and how many can you get right."

Haynos answered about 38, but doesn't know how many he got right yet.

At this point, Haynos has been in Indianapolis for about 48 hours and his physical ability on the football field has yet to be tested.

That's about to change.

Haynos and the rest of the tight ends get ready for the bench press test. Athletes are asked to do 225 pounds as many times as possible. Viewers of the combine on NFL Network are probably familiar with the name John Lott. He's the strength and conditioning coach for the Arizona Cardinals. He's also the guy that administers the bench press test at the combine, yelling at players and trying to squeeze every ounce of energy out of them so they can reach their max number of reps.

"The problem is, they will come in after just doing a Wonderlic test or just getting back from the hospital, and it's like, 'Where am I?' " Lott told the Cardinals' Web site. "And I am (clapping), 'Wake up, dude! This ain't no Wonderlic test. I ain't your grandma, I'm a stinking coach."

Did Haynos know what he was getting himself into?

"When we were taking the Wonderlic, we could hear [Lott] yelling through the walls," he said.

Haynos is the 11th tight end to be tested. As he watches Oklahoma's Joe Jon Finley go through the test, Haynos focuses on how he has prepared to get to this point.

"I was a little nervous, but I was just trying to focus on all the lifting I had done during the past five years," he said.

Haynos aims to get 18 reps, but comes up one short at 17. California's Craig Stevens leads all tight ends with 27 reps.

After grabbing a nap, Haynos hangs out with another Maryland prospect, offensive lineman Andrew Crummey, who's unable to participate in drills at the combine because of an injury. He broke his left fibula in early October in a game against Georgia Tech. After returning for the end of the season, Crummey refractured the bone in the East-West Shrine Game in Houston in January.

"He was obviously bummed out because he couldn't work out, but excited to meet with the coaches," Haynos said of his College Park roommate and one of his closer friends on the team. "I just told him to keep in mind that coaches know he can play. If they want him, they'll take him regardless of injury."

After dinner, it's time for more interviews. This time, specific teams identify the players they want to talk to. For Haynos, that means meetings with the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans. These are more intense than the previous day's meetings, with general managers in attendance along with head coaches, offensive coordinators, position coaches and scouts.

"They sit you down in a chair with eight guys facing you and you're on the hot seat," Haynos said. "They fire questions at you, about your background and also football questions to test your knowledge."

Haynos is asked to diagram plays on a dry-erase board as Bears coach Lovie Smith, who led Chicago to the Super Bowl during the 2006-07 season, observes.

"Lovie was very nice. It's cool to meet those coaches. You see them on TV all the time," Haynos said.

After three half-hour meetings, the interviews are over, and Haynos has only the physical tests left on the final day of the combine.

Day 4 (Feb. 23)

This is the day you see on NFL Network -- the running, the jumping, the times, the measurements. All the sports columns about whose stock has risen and whose stock has fallen pertain to the final day of the combine. While this is the best-documented part of the combine, it is only a fraction of what the players are in Indianapolis for. Haynos has now been here for three days, and NFL personnel have seen him perform only one physical test -- the bench press.

After breakfast and warm-ups, Haynos gets ready to run his first 40-yard dash. This is one of the main drills he was training for in Florida. Shaw, a former strength and conditioning coach for the New England Patriots, has trained 94 first-round picks and six overall No. 1 picks. Shaw said five of the last six fastest 40-times at the combine have been run by athletes who have trained with him.

Haynos' goal is to run the 40 in 4.8 seconds or less. He ends up with a 4.87.

"I expected to run a little faster," he said. "I'm not sure if I was nervous or if my form was bad."

He'll get another chance to improve his time at Maryland's Pro Day on March 12 in College Park, when scouts come to see all the Terps prospects work out again.

Purdue tight end Dustin Keller boasts the top time for tight ends at 4.55 seconds.

Haynos moves on to position drills, running routes and catching balls thrown from quarterback prospects Bernard Morris from Marshall and Kyle Wright from Miami.

"I feel I did really well," Haynos said. "I caught every ball clean and ran good routes."

Haynos performs well in the other drills. His vertical leap of 30.5 inches ranks sixth among tight ends. His broad jump of 10 feet, 3 inches, is second to only Purdue's Keller. And Haynos completes the three-cone drill in 6.92 seconds, third among tight ends.

At 3 p.m., it's all over. Haynos meets up with some friends and his agent before flying back to Orlando. The four-day job fair is complete. Haynos hopes he opened some eyes and some team will take a chance on him during April's draft.

"It really is one big interview," Haynos said. "These teams are investing a ton of money in players and want to be as thorough as possible. I think did well. Hopefully I showed some scouts I'm more athletic than they might have thought."

skapadia@baltimoresun.com


Baltimoresun.com will chronicle former Maryland tight end Joey Haynos' quest to make an NFL roster in an occasional series leading up to the draft on April 26-27. If you have questions for Haynos or are interested in a particular aspect of the life of an NFL hopeful, please e-mail sports@baltimoresun.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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