High School Football

Former Coastal Carolina, area players entertain scouts at Pro Day

For the 22 outgoing college football players being timed, measured and evaluated Tuesday morning at Coastal Carolina, the Chanticleers' Russell Palmetto Pro Day represented an opportunity.

With scouts from 18 NFL teams and the CFL's Montreal Alouettes in attendance, it was a chance for the players to leave one final impression, to try to catch a team's eye and perhaps move closer to that dream of a professional career.

As former CCU defensive tackle Robert Balkunas put it, "All it takes is one of these guys to like me and give me a chance, and that's all I'm looking for."

So the players - 11 from Coastal and the rest from other area colleges like Newberry, Wofford and Furman - took their turns in the weight room, running sprints and other timing drills on the baseball field at Watson Stadium and, finally, going through more specific workouts inside Brooks Stadium.

By the end of the showcase, it was recently-graduated Chants quarterback Zach MacDowall in the spotlight as the only signal-caller in the workout.

He zinged passes to former teammates and other hopeful prospects while competing one more time on the field where he had been a three-year collegiate starter, trying now to parlay his last six weeks of intensive offseason training into an opportunity somewhere, anywhere at the next level.

"It can only be a positive thing," MacDowall said afterward. "You know, this is not middle school, it's not high school, it's not college ball anymore. This is professional football - it's a job, it's a business. It's something that's taken very seriously, so me stepping out here working towards that today, being the only quarterback, I thought it was great."

At the end, a scout from the New York Jets pulled him aside briefly, and MacDowall said he had conversations with three or four of the scouts in all. They wanted to know about his background, if he had any kids, if he was an only child, stuff like that.

Now all he can do is wait and hope that one of them gives him a call.

"I thought I threw the ball really well," he said. "I think I only had one missed timing route, and that was a deep comeback, and that was on the first pass. But other than that, I felt like I threw the ball great. I felt the ball come great off my hand, and I thought the receivers did a great job today."

MacDowall, who shined down the stretch of his senior season while putting together one of the best three-game stretches in program history, went down to Florida in February to work out from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week at XPE Sports with NFL players like Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Bowe, Jacoby Ford and Brandon Flowers as well as a slew of fellow college seniors.

He says he's put on 10 pounds of muscle, bulking up to 215 pounds, and has altered his throwing motion.

"I don't sling the ball anymore. I'm over the top coming through," he said. "The ball is rising on me instead of dying, so it's a great feeling."

After finishing his senior season with 2,632 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, he hopes there's more football in his future, and Tuesday was an opportunity to help make that happen.

"I mean we're not behind coming from a 1-AA school, but it's obviously tougher," MacDowall said. "You really have to perform out here."

The 22 players who participated were included in the workouts by invitation and at the request of the scouts who coordinated with Coastal on who they wanted to see.

Tim Mingey, the Jacksonville Jaguars' assistant director/college personnel, said he and his scouting counterparts will end up attending 20-25 or more of these pro days before the NFL draft. They have been monitoring many of these players since last year and come to get one final look at their skills, health, physical condition and other attributes that could sway their opinion on an individual.

"We like to see sometimes demeanor," Mingey said. "Did they drop the ball? Do they follow directions? Are they listening? There's a lot of these things that are really subjective that mean a lot to our evaluation. So you pick up a lot of different things at the pro day."

He didn't want to estimate how many - if any - players from the workout at Coastal might make it to the next level, but he said there's talent to be found at the FCS and sub-FBS levels.

"I think you can find players at small schools, or 1-AA or below the major college level. I mean, there's a lot of them," he said. "The percentages aren't high, but I think you don't scout the school, you scout the player."

Former CCU safety Dominique Davenport is another Chant hoping to catch on as a professional. An instinctual player who intercepted six passes last year, one of the big questions about Davenport is perhaps his speed. He wasn't entirely pleased with his 40-yard dash times Tuesday, but he said he's had a couple of NFL teams express interest in him, and he was content he's done everything he can to help his chances.

"I felt I did pretty good," Davenport said. "My second 40, my technique was a little off, but other than that, I'm just out here trying to give it my best. And as long as I give my best, I can live with the results."

Other former Chants working out Tuesday were long-snapper Danny Bonifas, defensive back Keon Cunningham, fullback Racheed Gause, running back Eric O'Neal, offensive lineman Seth Smalls, linebacker Chris Walls, and receivers Brandon Whitley and Marquel Willis.

Balkunas, meanwhile, made a name for himself in the weight room, bench pressing 43 reps of 225 pounds. He thought that might raise some eyebrows.

Whatever happens from there, well, all he could do Tuesday was try to make the most of his opportunity.

"It's very nerve-wracking, but exciting at the same time," Balkunas said. "I came out here with the mentality I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. So I was just going to give it my all."

Gore gets look

Former North Myrtle Beach High School receiver P.J. Gore was among the 22 players working out for the professional scouts at CCU.

An invitee from Mars Hill College in North Carolina, Gore had already been to one pro day last week at Wake Forest and was hoping to improve his numbers and maybe catch somebody's eye Tuesday.

"I just want to get my foot in the door," he said. "If I can get one shot, one chance, I feel like I can do some things. I trust my hands fully."

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