Michigan State Football’s Pro Day was unlike any other this year with COVID-19 still having repercussions over the sport as players from the previous year and this year’s graduating class took part in various drills and workouts in front of NFL scouts.
Scott Aligo, Michigan State Football’s director of Player Personnel, knows how important pro days are as someone who worked in the front office scouting college athletes for the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs prior to his arrival in East Lansing a year ago.
“It's vital for them,” Aligo said. “We take that seriously, that's why today we want to make it their day and really kind of bring those guys back and try to make it as combine-like as possible without having to be at the Combine. Everything that we structured today was to make them feel like they were in Indianapolis. It's very important and we took a lot of pride in really showing off Michigan State and being able to show them what our players can do.”
That’s exactly why the invite to Michigan State’s pro day was extended to former players such as quarterback Brian Lewerke, linebacker Tyriq Thompson, tight end Matt Seybert and defensive back Josh Butler, who didn't get this opportunity a year ago due to COVID-19.
“When I got to text them back this year and say, ‘Hey, you could do it again,’ it's been really cool to kind of see,” Aligo said. "Give them this opportunity because they've earned it in my opinion. They've given a lot to Michigan State, it's the least we can do to be able to give them that opportunity to do that, it's fulfilling to me.”
Lewerke, like many players who were not drafted, were shorted a true opportunity to impress scouts at pro day. After only three workouts in five months after being cut by the New England Patriots, this opportunity meant everything for the former quarterback.
“We got a text from Scott about a month and a half ago just asking that if anyone wanted to come back that didn't get to do their pro day last year, they can come do it,” Lewerke said. “I definitely hopped on that as soon as I could.”
This was also a great opportunity for the players departing from Michigan State after the most recent season in linebacker Antjuan Simmons, defensive tackle Naquan Jones and cornerback Shakur Brown.
Brown is one of the top prospects coming out of Michigan State this year, projected to go near the middle of the NFL Draft at the end of April after being near the top of Division I in interceptions this season. Brown is looking to be one in a long line of Michigan State cornerbacks to be drafted in recent years, including his former roommate Josiah Scott and former teammate Justin Layne, who were both drafted in the previous two NFL Drafts.
“Those guys paved the way for me,” Brown said. “Especially Josiah, he’s my old roommate we used to talk a lot, he’d help me with the plays. Justin was like my big brother when I came on campus so he helped me a lot through the path too.”
Brown was versatile for the Spartans this year, playing on the outside, guarding slot receivers and even playing in Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker’s new addition to the defense in the nickel spot.
For Brown though, he feels he’s versatile enough to fill any team’s vacancy in their defensive backfield.
“Honestly, I don’t have a preference,” Brown said. “I don’t lose anything playing inside or outside.”
Brown had the back of Simmons all year long as the two were the anchor for the Michigan State defense this season. After being the team captain and leading the team in tackles, Simmons is looking to sell his work ethic and knowledge of the game to NFL scouts.
“Definitely I'm a hard-working guy, positive attitude, leader, show up and do everything right, do whatever is needed to better the team, whatever it takes, I’m going to get the job done, and you're getting a heck of a football player,” Simmons said. "I’m giving 110 In practice, I'm giving 110 on game days, that's just the type of guy I am. I want to be the best, I want to win.”
Simmons felt his pro day was successful but still felt like he needs to take his pass rush to the next level.
“The way that I play hard, where I go sideline to sideline tackling, just all those things really,” Simmons said. “My biggest thing to work on was really just block shedding, getting rid of guys and being able to come off and make more plays.”
The same thing can be said about Jones, who has been slimming down to try and become more explosive off of the line of scrimmage this offseason.
"I was able to reach my goal weight, I looked pretty good today, I think so, going through the position drills and going through the drills,” Jones said. “Pretty much from teams I've been hearing that I have the potential and I have the play level to compete at the next level. I just need to do what I need to do.”
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Just like Brown, Jones has the ability to ask questions of some of his former teammates like Kenny Willekes to ask questions about the NFL process.
"I leaned on Kenny (Willekes) very heavily and he just told me to stay to process even if you don’t run the best time events,” Jones said. “It's basically your ability and you do what you can do, just leave here with no regrets and that's exactly what I did today.”
With the April 29 date approaching, these players' dreams of stepping onto the field on Sundays is coming closer every day.
"I've dreamt of this forever from when I started playing football,” Jones said. “It's just one step closer.”
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