Cole Stanford tried out no fewer than five positions on both sides of the ball for the Cal Poly football team before he found a home at slotback in the Mustangs’ triple-option offense.
Unfortunately for Stanford, the NFL has no direct translation for that spot.
So, as Stanford and the rest of Cal Poly’s hopefuls completed their pro day in front of an unusually large group of scouts at the Sports Complex on Thursday, Stanford is unsure where he’ll be asked to play come training camp.
“I step on the field, and I feel comfortable wherever I’m put,” said Stanford, who was run through wide receiver routes during individual drills Thursday, “in the backfield, tight end, wide receiver, slot, and explosive, too. It’s like I’m just filling a position to substitute for some guy in there. I feel like I can contribute at each one of those spots, too.”
In a grouping of scouts Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said was the largest for any pro day in his five years with the program, representatives from the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts ran 13 former Mustangs through several tests, including bench press, vertical leap and 40-yard dash.
For Stanford, who played inside linebacker, outside linebacker, safety and fullback in his first three seasons at Cal Poly, this wasn’t his first meeting with scouts.
The New England Patriots came to San Luis Obispo last week to run Stanford and Johnny Millard through linebacking drills. Stanford, who said he’s also trying to line up individual workouts with the San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers, said team representatives are advising him to be ready to play anywhere.
Millard hopes to be among the 250-plus players taken in the seven rounds of the NFL Draft, which will be held May 8-10, and having participated in two separate all-star games this offseason, he has as solid a résumé as any.
The four-year starter, son of former NFL great Keith Millard, could be a late-round selection but if not is likely to be signed as an undrafted free agent. At 6-foot-2, 232 pounds, Johnny Millard has ideal size and good speed.
“My goal and my expectation is to get drafted,” Millard said. “That’s what I train for, and that’s what I tried to show today and in those all-star games when I played against so-called bigger competition. I’m right there with them. Late rounds, even if it’s a priority free agent; it doesn’t matter to me. I just need to make a team.”
FCS All-America defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz, a Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Sky Conference, is another candidate to have his name called come draft day.
Grosz, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound Fresno San Joaquin Memorial product, was delighted to see the scout turnout, which Cal Poly strength and conditioning coach Chris Holder also said was the largest he’s seen for a pro day in San Luis Obispo.
“We just need to be seen in person,” Grosz said. “People think because we’re FCS that we’re smaller or we’re not as quick, but I think by having them here, they can know right away that we’re legit. Everyone should be walking away with their heads held high.”
Holder rejoined Cal Poly a little more than a year ago after seven years at San Jose State. Prior to that, he became the program’s first strength coach and trained former Mustangs greats Jordan Beck, Chris Gocong, Kyle Shotwell and Courtney Brown, among others.
Beck, Gocong and Brown were all drafted, but Holder said, their pro days didn’t draw as many NFL teams as this year’s crop.
The interest in top prospects like Grosz, Stanford and Millard also gave exposure to less heralded players.
“Alex Hubbard had a sensational day,” Holder said. “He over-performed on everything. Alex surprised me on every single drill.”
An all-conference first-team safety, Hubbard had the fastest 40-yard dash time Thursday. Unofficial stopwatches clocked him between 4.43 and 4.47 seconds in his first run. At 5-9, 190 pounds, Hubbard needs to show well to help prove he’s worthy of an opportunity. If the NFL doesn’t call him, he’s hoping to hear from the Candian Football League or an indoor league.
“I’ve never performed well on the testing days or anything since I was in high school,” Hubbard said. “Today was the first day I’ve actually performed well. So, I’m happy.”
Other standouts were offensive guard Lefi Letuligasenoa, who did 31 reps in the 225-pound bench press. Only seven offensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine in February were able to do more.
Cornerback Bijon Samoodi measured at just 5-7½, but opened eyes with a 38-inch vertical leap.
“Vertical is something I’ll always work on,” Samoodi said, “so when they do say I’m short, I can say, ‘But I can jump with the big guys, too.’ ”
Other players who completed drills included fullback Akaninyene Umoh, offensive tackle Giovanni Sani and defensive end Nick Leyden, a Pioneer Valley High product.
Four ex-Mustangs from the 2012 season also came out for a second chance. Linebacker Kennith Jackson, cornerback Nico Molino, fullback Quentin Greenlaw and slotback Deonte Williams participated in drills.
Players said the atmosphere was as intense as a regular-season game. Grosz had butterflies in his stomach Wednesday just as he had before games.
Stanford compared it to Cal Poly’s run to the FCS playoffs in 2012.
“Besides game days, when you come into Big Sky Championships and stuff, this is probably one of the biggest days of my life,” Stanford said. “I consider it like a job interview. This is big for me.”