Corner Mike Hughes may now be one of the top players at his position in the 2018 rookie class, but his road to pro football has been anything but easy.
An all-state high school player in New Bern, North Carolina, Hughes made the decision to stay close to home for college ball and suited up for North Carolina during his freshman year. But his promising career in Chapel Hill was cut short when he got suspended for an incident at a frat house and ended up leaving the team. In 2016, he wound up playing for Garden City Community College at the junior college level. His outstanding play quickly caught the attention of University of Central Florida coach Scott Frost who recruited him to play for his squad in 2017.
And the rest is history – the corner helped lead UCF to an undefeated record, and, to some, stake a claim as the real national champs. On an individual level, Hughes received first-team conference honors as a defensive back and second-team honors as a returner. All the change he experienced in college didn’t slow him down – it helped him grow as a player and as a person.
“When I left UNC, I kind of had to take a step back,” Hughes said. “That taught me to never take anything for granted. It made me work even harder, and I appreciated everyone who was there with me during the struggle. Going to UCF was probably the best decision I’ve ever made, and it’s just a blessing to be in this position.”
Whoever drafts Hughes is getting more than just a corner, they’re getting a true special teams ace, as well.
“I’d say my favorite memory in college was my kick return for a touchdown against USF for the win,” he said. “That was probably one of the biggest football moments of my life.”
Pro football’s biggest scouting event is an opportunity for 336 athletes to showcase their skills in an audition for a spot on a pro team’s roster. Tanner Carew is in a league of his own, however. That’s because he’s the only long snapper that received an invite to this year’s event.
You may be wondering how someone becomes so good at such a specialized position. We were, too. So we asked him. As it turns out, Carew got his start in long snapping in a pretty normal way.
“I was just the center for the team in 5th grade and they were like, ‘Hey, can you long snap, too?’” Carew said.
He started practicing a little bit and soon became the team’s long snapper. Carew continued to get better and better every year. He even began to participate in special training and camps for long snappers to hone his craft. Carew became the nation’s best long snapping recruit and got invited to the U.S. Army All-American Game.
Carew played college football at Oregon, where his speed and accuracy as a long snapper began to draw attention from pro scouts. He delivered all 146 snaps accurately as a sophomore and all 134 snaps as a junior.
The long snapper even racked up a few tackles and downed a punt inside the 5-yard line during his career. The secret to his success? It’s the same as any other football player’s.
“Just keep working hard,” Carew said. “The key is to just stay consistent.”
Kickers and punters get most of the glory when it comes to the specialist group, but Carew is the one who starts the whole process. An inaccurate snap can throw off everything, resulting in shanked kicks.
He snapped about 200 snaps to punters and kickers in front of scouts at this week, in addition to running the 40-yard dash and other drills. As the best long snapper in the nation, Carew will likely find himself in the league next year, and is thought by many experts to be a mid-to-late-round draft pick, which is rare for the position.
No matter how it happens or where he lands, Carew is confident that he’ll be snapping for a long time to come.
“Being here in Indy shows I’m doing something right, but there’s more to be done,” Carew said. “I have so much more to work on. I’m not even close to being done.”
Thanks to Tanner Carew for his time and make sure to check out the Eastbay Blog for more exclusive stories on the biggest names of the 2018 rookie class.
A popular trend in football seems to be that fewer and fewer defensive backs like delivering big hits. Well then, consider safety Ronnie Harrison old-school – he was even itching for contact during his scouting workouts.
“Yeah, I definitely wish these drills were more physical,” he said. “All this running and jumping, that’s not real football. I want to get some of these guys in pads and see what they can really do.”
Harrison’s play style is as aggressive as it gets on the gridiron, and when you tack on his considerable size, speed, and range, he was truly a beast unleashed during his three years patrolling the back end of Alabama’s defense. He should be picked pretty early during this year’s draft, and he’s sure to make one team very happy and 31 other offenses very nervous.
We got a chance to do a round of rapid-fire questions with the playmaking safety before he hits the pro game. Check it out below:
Q: What’s The Toughest Workout You’ve Done Recently?
A: “I worked with Tony Villani – he has a workout he calls the SHREDmill. It was hard, but it helped with my speed.
Q: Would You Rather Match Up Against A Bigger Or Smaller WR?
A: “I feel like I can cover either one. But I would probably match up better against bigger WRs because of my own size.
Q: Which WR Can You Not Wait To Face In The Pros?
A: “Probably Julio Jones since he played at Alabama, too.”
Q: Which Pro Has Given You The Best Advice?
A: “I talk to Ha Ha (Clinton-Dix) a lot. He’s like my big brother.”
Q: Which Player Does Your Game Most Compare To?
A: “Sean Taylor.”
Q: Speak Directly To The Fans Of The Team That Drafts You – What Type Of Player Are They Getting?
A: “They’re getting a leader. I’m going to bring that passion and that attitude. I’m selfless and offer a lot of versatility and I love the game of football.”
Thanks to Ronnie Harrison for his time and make sure to check out the Eastbay Blog for more exclusive stories on the biggest names of the 2018 rookie class.
Iowa’s James Daniels is one of the top centers in… Wait, let’s try that again. Iowa’s James Daniels is one of the top guards in the 2018 rookie class. Or should it be tackle? It’s hard to tell what position to call him yet, but no matter where he winds up playing, the versatile offensive lineman is a major name to watch during this year’s draft.
Daniels started two games at guard during his 2015 freshman season before switching over to center for his remaining two seasons. He excelled at both positions, and with his impressive athleticism and length, a possible move to tackle isn’t off the table at the next level either.
How has he been able to be so versatile? “I feel like I have two things that really help me: I’m smart and athletic,” Daniels explained. “You need to be smart so you can learn each position and switch over when something happens, and you need to be athletic so that you don’t have to worry about being beat on the edge.”
The Iowa football program also played a big role in Daniels’ ability to develop – just look at all the lineman talent they’ve produced for the pro game over the last few years. “(Head) Coach Ferenz and (Strength and Conditioning) Coach Doyle are the biggest reason for that,” he said. “It’s a developmental program, so we take guys who may not be ready to play right away and grow them into the best players that they can become.”
And as Daniels preps for his own shot at the next level, he’ll have two excellent role models to give him advice.
“My dad played football at Ohio State and in the pros, so when I was young, he introduced me to the sport and taught me a lot of life lessons. And my brother (LeShun Daniels Jr.) is two years older than me. He’s my best friend and we would play a lot of backyard football together. He’s in the pros now too and his journey – he got cut, picked up, cut again – really made me look at is work ethic and appreciate it.”
So he’s got the family pedigree, but Daniels is also his own player. And whether he is asked to be a center, guard, tackle, or, heck, even tight end in the pros, it’s clear he has everything he needs to be successful.
Thanks to James Daniels for his time and make sure to check out the Eastbay Blog for more exclusive stories on the biggest names of the 2018 rookie class.
Perseverance. Leadership. Competitiveness. Quarterback J.T. Barrett’s most impressive traits are also what make him so unique.
Barrett was the only three-time captain in Ohio State history and it’s easy to see why. He was the type of leader that teammates rally around in the huddle and he knew when to speak out and when to lead by example. But now, he’s about to start his pro football career – and he’ll have to join a team full of established veteran players. So how will that affect his role in the locker room? That’s simple. It won’t.
“I feel like I’ll take the same approach I did while at Ohio State,” Barrett said. “Obviously, I’m not going to step in and run the whole ship from day one and I will respect the vets, but, once I get to my new team, I will observe what’s going on around me. There are always ways to encourage guys and help make them better. I’ll earn the respect and trust of my teammates once they see the hard work that I put in.”
The success that OSU had with Barrett leading the way is pretty ridiculous. They finished 38-6 in games he started and he left with over 25 school records, including career passing yards (9,434) and completions (769).
Yet, the three-time Big 10 Quarterback of the Year has been flying somewhat under the radar during this whole pre-draft process. Despite his intangibles, some scouts question his arm strength and release.
But Barrett isn’t stressed by any of the negative press – he knows he will be a steal for whoever does draft him, and he knows he has a solid base who will back him up along the way.
“I have some great people in my life who keep me calm and mentally prepared for everything,” Barrett explained. He cites his parents, his high school head coach Jim Garfield, and his best friend’s dad as role models who have always provided him with wise words and endless support.
No matter where or when he gets drafted, you can bet that Barrett will put in the work to get better, too.
Da’Ron Payne is a force. Standing at 6 feet, 2 inches and weighing in at 308 pounds, Payne uses every ounce of his considerable strength to manhandle interior offensive linemen and stop running backs in their tracks. Yet, the burly tackle is still quick enough to chase down players half his size.
Want proof of his dominance? Look no further than this year’s national championship. He was a rock in the trenches, tallying up six tackles and slowing down a dangerous Georgia offense when the game was on the line.
And now, he’s ready for the biggest step yet in his career – pro football. But before he’s wreaking havoc on Sundays, let’s take a second to break down why this Alabama alum in tailor-made for today’s modern game.
HE FINISHED HIS COLLEGE CAREER ON TOP OF THE WORLD
The Crimson Tide’s win over Georgia felt extra sweet because of how the previous year ended – with a heartbreaking loss to Clemson in the title game. “This year’s win definitely felt like redemption,” Payne said. “We definitely weren’t going to leave without that trophy.”
HE IS AT HIS BEST DURING THE BIGGEST MOMENTS
We mentioned the impressive stats Payne put up during the championship, but even those doesn’t fully explain how dominant he was. He seemed to live in the Bulldog backfield, providing constant pressure and shutting down opposing running lanes. The stage was the brightest and Payne was ready to rise to the occasion. “I could tell we needed that,” Payne explained. “That’s just what big-time players do. When it’s time to shine, you need to go out there, put on a show for your team, and do everything you can to help your team win.”
HE’S FOCUSED ON BEING A COMPLETE PLAYER
Sure, being a sack artist may be more glamorous, but Payne is focused on becoming a complete player. His explosive pass rush skills are matched by his dominance against the run. “For me, it’s all about using my strength to win at the point of attack,” he said.
HE HAS BEEN INSPIRED BY THE BEST
Payne definitely has his own unique playing style, but when asked who he grew up watching, he lists guys such as Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, and Ndamukong Suh. That’s some good company to keep.
HE’S MORE THAN JUST A FOOTBALL PLAYER
Off the gridiron, Payne has a unique hobby – collecting retro cars. “That comes from my dad,” Payne said. “He always had old-school cars. One day, he gave me one, and after that I took it and ran with it.” A ’97 Impala is currently the crown jewel of Payne’s collection, but expect that to grow even more once he hits the pros.
Thanks to Da’Ron Payne for his time and make sure to check out the Eastbay Blog for more exclusive stories on the biggest names of the 2018 rookie class.