By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With representatives of 17 NFL teams looking on, running back Keith Payne was weighed, measured, tested and timed Thursday morning, first in the McCue Center and then outside on the practice fields.
When UVa’s Pro Day finally ended, he allowed himself to exhale.
“This time was the most stressful time of my life,” Payne told reporters with a tired smile. “I had everyone wanting to know what’s going on, how it’s going to go. You’re not really sure yourself. This entire experience was just a stressful experience. I’m just glad it’s over with.”
Payne said the scouts with whom he talked Thursday told him he “did pretty well. I came out here with an open attitude, good and bad. There really isn’t much you can do once you finish. It’s done. But I was definitely positive about the experience.
“I know I can do better, but they said it was all right.”
Payne, who led the ACC in scoring (8.7 points per game) last season, was one of 13 former Cavaliers to work out for NFL scouts Thursday. Twelve of them, including Payne, a second-team all-ACC pick, were seniors in 2010. The exception was defensive end Zane Parr, who against the advice of UVa’s coaching staff left school after last season to pursue a professional career.
In addition to Payne and Parr, auditioning Thursday were long-snapper Danny Aiken, offensive guard B.J. Cabbell, linebacker Darnell Carter, defensive lineman John-Kevin Dolce, cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling and Mike Parker, tailback Raynard Horne, wide receiver Dontrelle Inman, tight end Joe Torchia, quarterback Marc Verica and safety Trey Womack.
Some players did more than others. Dowling hurt his right hamstring while running the 40-yard dash at the recent NFL scouting combine — Aiken was the other player from UVa invited to Indianapolis — and once his height (6-2) and weight (200 pounds) were measured Thursday, he turned into a spectactor.
“Things happen,” Dowling said, “but at least I can come out here and encourage my teammates.”
Dowling, his injury problems notwithstanding, is a lock to get drafted. Most of his classmates are likely to sign free-agent contracts, after the NFL lockout ends. Aiken is considered the top long-snapper in the Class of 2011, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get picked next month.
“I think the stats say that one [long-snapper] every two years, maybe, gets drafted,” Aiken said. “Being a long-snapper, it’s kind of like, ‘Let’s keep our fingers crossed.’ Right now it’s a waiting game.”
Aiken, a four-year starter, said the NFL combine “was definitely an experience. A lot of people there, a lot of coaches, a lot of press, and it was definitely an exciting experience. It took a little getting used to. It’s definitely a lot harder to snap in a quiet, huge stadium than it is with a lot of people yelling. You’re not really used to it, but it went really well.”
An NFL long-snapper must be able to deliver the ball accurately and quickly to his target. He also must be able “to get downfield and hopefully make tackles and be a part of the coverage team,” Aiken said.
During his UVa career, Aiken made 12 tackles on special teams. After playing at 255 pounds last season, he weighed in at 245 on Thursday.
“I think I definitely can get down [the field],” Aiken said. “I think I’m athletic enough to make some plays. I cut a little weight, so hopefully that means better footwork and a little more speed.”
Payne, who stands 6-2½, has dropped some weight, too. He weighed in at 247 on Thursday.
“Two months ago I was, like, 257,” he said. “So to lose weight to 247 is good. I plan on losing some more weight, trying to get down to the low ’40s.”
Payne said NFL teams have told him he could play tailback, fullback or H-back, or some combination of the three positions.
In the McCue Center weight room, with many members of Mike London’s current team cheering them on, the draft-eligible players bench-pressed 225 pounds as many times as possible. The 249-pound Dolce led the way with 32 repetitions.
Dowling did 19 reps in Indianapolis and didn’t repeat the test Thursday. Torchia, who had shoulder surgery in October, didn’t lift either, but he took part in the other drills.
Had he stayed healthy, Torchia might have been an all-ACC candidate last season. But he played in only four games before a torn labrum ended his season. Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon, repaired Torchia’s right shoulder.
For Torchia, Pro Day was “a big opportunity to show the scouts I’m healthy and that I can produce for the team,” he said. “I think I did that. I feel I did well.”
A collarbone injury limited Torchia to seven games in 2008. Still, he doesn’t indulge in self-pity about the adversity he faced at UVa.
“The road’s paved with difficulties,” Torchia said, “and part of being a man is having to overcome those, and how you overcome them. I think it’s made me a better man and a tougher person and a tougher player.”
Inman also had to deal with injuries during his UVa career. But he stayed healthy as a senior and caught 51 passes for 815 passes and three touchdowns.
He went into Pro Day, Inman said, with “mixed feelings. You’re so anxious to get out there and perform well, but at the same time you have to keep yourself calm. And it’s an experience that everyone dreams for. I’ve been dreaming for this since, I guess, I saw my first football game … So I’m just happy and glad that I got the opportunity to be out there and perform.”