ORONO, Maine — Earning a spot on a National Football League roster is the goal of many Division I college players. For most, the quest goes unfulfilled.
On Thursday morning, a group of seven former University of Maine football players and another from Southern Connecticut State University tried to prove they’re worthy of consideration.
“NFL stands for ‘not for long,’ as we all know, and it can be here today, gone tomorrow. It’s a business,” said UMaine head speed, strength and conditioning coach Matt King, who signed with two NFL teams and played in the Canadian Football League and two different arena leagues.
Wide receiver Damarr Aultman and safety Khari Al-Mateen were the Black Bears’ headliners during UMaine’s annual “Pro Day,” where players are put through a series of strength, speed and agility tests in the Latti Fitness Center and the Mahaney Dome.
Brandon Yeargan of the New England Patriots was the only NFL scout in attendance.
“Not all of them are highly ranked by the NFL scouts and certainly that is a fact of life,” UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove said.
That didn’t prevent the athletes from trying to prove their worth as measured by NFL’s series of tests.
“I believe I can compete with anybody out there. All I’ve got to do is convince others that I can do that,” said wide receiver Art Williams.
He likely improved his stock with a vertical jump of 43½ inches, an 11-foot standing broad jump and a 40-yard dash time under 4.4 seconds. All would have ranked among the top four among wideouts at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Yeargan also put the players through their paces in the bench press, shuttle runs, three-cone drill and a few position-specific exercises.
“This is their first big job interview,” King said. “This is a culmination of four or five years of their hard work on display, so it’s good to see.”
Both Aultman and Al-Mateen have spent the last three months training at Athletic Performance Lab in Katy, Texas. Their efforts appear to be paying off.
Aultman, an All-Colonial Athletic Association second-team choice last season, was ready to go on Thursday.
“When I woke up this morning, I felt like a little kid about to go on a field trip,” he said.
Last month, he participated in an NFL Regional Combine in Denver. On Thursday, he set personal bests in the vertical leap (41 inches) and the broad jump (10-8) and got under 4.4 in the 40.
“I really impressed them there [Denver]. After that, I did get a few calls from the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders, so I’m on their radar as well,” Aultman said.
Al-Mateen, who attended a regional combine in Texas, set personal records in the vertical (37) and broad (9-11) jumps and the bench press (23).
“It’s been a grind, but it’s been fun,” he said of a tedious training regimen that encompassed seven hours per day, six days a week.
“I actually got a call from the Ravens a couple weeks ago. They’re having a pro day in mid-April, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Other participants included cornerback Axel Ofori, fullback Carlton Charles of Windham, defensive end Jon Louis, running back Derek Session, who completed his career in 2011, and SCSU running back Jack Mallis of Windham.
Cosgrove explained that NFL teams scout throughout the season, both during practices and at games, so Pro Day is the final chance for players to demonstrate their skills. That includes some who may not have achieved a lot of recognition.
“There’s the facts of life: You’re not big enough, you’re not fast enough,” said Cosgrove, who pointed to former Black Bears Montell Owens and Matt Mulligan of Enfield as players who overcame the long odds to play in the NFL.
The young men know their days playing football are numbered. They pursue the dream confident their experience as UMaine student-athletes has prepared them for whatever may lie ahead.
“Whether I have a suit and tie on or I’m a police officer, whatever it is, football prepared me to work and I know it will help me succeed,” Aultman said.
Al-Mateen remains grateful to have been provided with the God-given tools to have such an opportunity. He isn’t sweating what might happen in the long term.
“Whatever happens, football [and the UMaine business school] has taught us enough intangible qualities to where we’ll be able to succeed no matter what we do,” he said.
“I don’t know what the end puzzle’s going to look like, so I just grab the pieces when I get them and stick them in there.”