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Inside an NFL draft prospect’s mind ahead of the combine

What goes through the mind of a NFL draft prospect just before he heads to Indianapolis for the most scrutinized workout of his life?

Ed. Note: As part of our coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine, we wanted to share a lens into the mindset of a draft prospect as he approaches the circus in Indianapolis. Clemson safety Jayron Kearse, a communications major with NFL bloodlines (his uncle Jevon Kearse played 11 seasons with the Titans and Eagles) decided to declare for the draft a year early following the Tigers’ run to the national title game in January. Below, he offers his perspective on the expectations, emotions and preparation that all go into the pressure-packed week ahead.

My name is Jayron Kearse and I’m a safety from Clemson University, entered in the 2016 NFL draft. I decided to leave school after my junior year for the simple fact that I believe this was the best opportunity to go out there and showcase what I can do in the NFL. The time for me is now—I have done everything I could in college and feel like I’m ready for that next step.

My decision to leave Clemson after my junior year was hard. You become attached to that environment, the coaches and my teammates. But I’m ready for a new environment now, and this week will be a monumental step in getting there.

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The immediate next step on the road to the draft is this week’s scouting combine, and I have no trouble admitting I’m a little nervous for the type of environment we’re getting thrown into. But it can be nerve-wracking for any teenager or young adult to take the next step in life, so I think it’s a natural nervousness.

One advantage I have is that my uncle Jevon, who played eleven years in the NFL, has been advising me on what to expect this week. He warned that a lot of guys can’t keep their composure with the demands of the combine—going to sleep at one in the morning and waking up at five for tests and meetings with teams.

To prepare, I’ve actually been testing those hours out. I want to make sure the lack of sleep doesn’t get to me once I’m at the combine.

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Overall, I feel very well prepared not only in my ability but in knowing the types of things that will keep me calm and even-keeled, so when I go out there I don’t let being nervous affect me.

We all have ways to stay calm; for me, it’s repeating a mantra. I have a young daughter, Ja’riah, so I just say her name in my head, which helps remind me why I’m doing everything I’m doing and why I need to continue to strive for greatness.

Right now I’m in Arizona at EXOS, tweaking the little things so I can go out and showcase my abilities at the combine. It’s pretty crazy because there is a lot being thrown at us, but being here has really helped me prepare. The combine is basically a track event where we’re running and jumping and whatnot, so just getting technique down is what I work on every day. 

The training has become very regimented at this point, and probably isn’t that different from an NFL training camp.

— Wake up at 8.
— Get to the facilities by 9.
— Eat breakfast.
— Work out for about an hour and fifteen minutes.
— Get a two-hour break.
— Workout #2.
— After the second workout, you stick around for therapy, including the cold tub, and discuss what is expected for the next day.

You repeat the same thing for six days before getting Sunday off.  

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At this point, I’m more than ready for combine week. I’m expecting to do everything to the best of my abilities, including the interviews when I’m in with the teams, and mostly just be prepared for any surprises.

In terms of the athletic element, I’m probably most confident in the on-field drills with the defensive backs and my bench press, as I’ve been doing those drills for a long time. When I first got to the training facility, I thought about different numbers I wanted to hit, but being here and going through the process I’ve veered away from focusing on specific numbers and am really trying to approach it as needing to do the best that I can do. That mindset has been a relief, and I’m generally comfortable no matter who is watching. 

Check back next week when I share details from my combine experience.