Former Michigan State players chase NFL hopes on pro day

EAST LANSING – Their positions, sizes, skillsets and backgrounds vary but they all share a common goal.

That’s playing in the NFL and they all just checked off a notable box in the process of attempting to make that happen.

Michigan State’s pro day was Wednesday and 15 players from the 2021 team participated at the Duffy Daugherty Building as scouts from all 32 NFL teams, along with representatives from the CFL and XFL, were in attendance.

“These past couple months, it was pretty much just stay focused on what I had to do – training every day,” said running back Kenneth Walker III, who was previously working out in Florida. “Just enjoying the process day by day.”

Walker is Michigan State’s top draft prospect and one of three pro day participants who earned an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis earlier this month, along with receiver Jalen Nailor and tight end Connor Heyward. All three had remaining eligibility left but declared for the draft and on Wednesday turned in their final significant football activity in East Lansing.

“It’s surreal,” Nailor said. “I’m going to miss definitely working out here, playing here. I think everyone here that’s been a part of this journey has helped me grow in a positive way and I can’t thank them enough for that. That support from day one has just been unreal. “

Getting players to the NFL is a goal for Michigan State general manager and executive director of player personnel and recruiting Saeed Khalif. However, there’s a flip side that sunk in on Wednesday with the Spartans coming off an 11-2 season.

“I was like, wait a minute, we’re losing some really good football players,” Khalif, who is coming off his first season with the program, said with a laugh while noting Walker, Nailor and Heyward. “That’s a lot of production that was out here getting ready for the NFL that we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to compete without next year.”

Heading into last year’s draft, Michigan State had a streak of 80 straight years with at least one player picked, which was third longest in the nation. That run was snapped and the goal is obviously to start a new one.

“I anticipate we’ll get someone drafted this year,” coach Mel Tucker said on Monday. “Guys have been working really hard since the end of the season to get ready for pro day. We have some guys that did a good job at the combine, guys really helped themselves there. “

Training for the combine and pro day requires an adjustment for players. Their focus shifts to the testing, which includes vertical and broad jumps, 225-pound bench press, 40-yard dash, three-cone and shuttle drills, as well as position work.

“It’s definitely good to get it out of the way because it’s not like the training we’re used to,” said offensive tackle AJ Arcuri. “It’s almost more like track. … So I’m excited to get into actual football now and train for that. It’s been a great experience and I feel like I had a pretty good day. “

Shortly after checking in at 6-foot-7 and 308 pounds, Arcuri posted a 33 ½-inch vertical, which would have tied for first among all offensive linemen at the combine this year. Testing varied by player as Nailor and Heyward benched but stood by their other combine numbers before doing position work. Walker, who ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at the combine and could be the first running back drafted this year, only did position work.

After six seasons at Michigan State and multiple injuries, offensive lineman Luke Campbell isn’t continuing his football career but used the pro day to raise money for pediatric brain cancer research. That’s in honor of Ian Pomeroy, a young Michigan State fan he met in 2017 who died of DIPG in 2018 at age 6. As of Wednesday afternoon, Campbell’s campaign had raised more than $ 5,300.

Current and former Michigan State players, along with family members of the pro day participants, watched and cheered on from the weight room and indoor field. Heyward, whose career at Michigan State included four seasons at running back and a stint in the transfer portal before a move to tight end / H-back last season paid off, had his mom and others there for support.

“East Lansing is an extremely special place to me,” Heyward said. “I met a lot of my lifetime friends and all the coaches I’ve come across, they’ve been all good mentors to me. Leaving Michigan State, leaving East Lansing, it’s hard but I know that there’s other guys in line to step up. They’re going to keep on recruiting and hopefully I just left my jersey in a better place. “

While Walker, Heyward, Nailor and perhaps others have a chance at being drafted, many of the pro day participants will likely have to try to make an NFL team as a free agent after not getting picked in the draft, which is April 28-30 . That’s a route numerous recent Spartans took.

“Going from college, getting ready for the pros, it definitely feels like I’m growing up,” said defensive end Drew Beesley, who arrived at Michigan State as a walk-on, earned a scholarship and became a starter at the end of his six years with the program. “With the season we had this past year, I’ve still got goals in mind that I want to accomplish and I’ve had these goals in mind since I was a little boy of wanting to play in the NFL. Going through these last 2 ½ months, it’s been quite an experience for sure. “

Michigan State’s pro day participants and testing numbers

Note: The testing players participated in varied and no times were available for the 40-yard dash, three-cone or shuttle

* Matt Allen, C

6-foot-2,303 pounds; 24-inch vertical; 18 bench press reps

* AJ Arcuri, OT

6-7, 308 pounds; 33 ½-inch vertical, 27 bench press reps; 9-0 broad jump

* Drew Beesley, DE

6-2, 251 pounds; 28-inch vertical, 30 bench press reps; 9-2 broad jump

* Blake Bueter, OL

Height N / A (listed at 6-4); 309 pounds; 29 ½-inch vertical; 20 bench press reps

* Luke Campbell, OL

21 bench press reps

* Matt Coghlin, K

5-9, 191 pounds

* Noah Harvey, LB

6-3, 230 pounds; 34 ½-inch vertical; 25 bench press reps

* Connor Heyward, TE

5-11, 237 pounds; 18 bench press reps

* Kevin Jarvis, OL

6-5, 317 pounds; 26 ½-inch vertical; 21 bench press reps

* Drew Jordan, DE

6-1, 255 pounds; 31-inch vertical

* Jalen Nailor, WR

5-11, 192 pounds; 14 bench press reps

* Jacub Panasiuk, DE

6-3, 253 pounds; 33-inch vertical; 17 bench press reps; 9-4 broad jump

* Anthony Russo, QB

6-3, 239 pounds; 31 ½-inch vertical

* Cody Waddell, P

5-11, 209 pounds

* Kenneth Walker III, RB

5-9, 209 pounds

Related Michigan State football stories:

Why Michigan State WR Jayden Reed passed on NFL to return for another year

Michigan State turns page from last season with start of spring practice

Spartan Confidential: Michigan State could beat its former captain then end Coach K’s career

Mel Tucker on Michigan State’s QB depth, coaching changes and getting basketball players back

Mel Tucker targets spring practice as crucial period of development

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