For some players on the UConn football team, Wednesday morning would mark their only time to show NFL scouts if they have what it takes to play at the game’s highest level. Others, like wide receiver Noel Thomas and safety Obi Melifonwu, looked to improve their times to help move up the draft board.
Melifonwu was the star of the show at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, with his video-game-like numbers in the broad jump, vertical jump and 40-yard dash. Things weren’t as easy for Thomas, who posted a 4.63-second 40-yard dash time at the combine and clearly was not happy about it.
“I wanted to come out here and get that taste out of my mouth, I’m talking about the 40-yard dash specifically,” Thomas said.
Fortunately for Thomas, he had an opportunity to improve his time Wednesday morning at the Huskies’ pro day in front of 25 NFL scouts from 20 different teams. In a few short seconds, Thomas’ attempt at a second chance proved worthwhile, as the Norwalk, Connecticut native lowered his 40-yard dash time to 4.42 seconds on his second attempt of the pro day before his day ended early due to a minor hamstring injury.
“I felt like I definitely got a little redemption here in the 40-yard dash,” Thomas said. “I’ve never seen a 4.6 (40-yard dash time) in my life, so to come out here and try my best was what I wanted to do.”
While Thomas saw improvement in combine times, Melifonwu looked to add more gaudy numbers to his stellar combine resume. The senior safety did not run 40-yard dash again after running a 4.4 in Indianapolis, but participated in the three-cone drill, the 60-yard shuttle and multiple position-specific drills.
Once again, the Grafton, Massachusetts native put on a show.
Melifonwu ran a time of 7.07 seconds in the three-cone drill and a 10.95 in the 60-yard shuttle. To put those times in perspective, they would have both ranked second among all positions had Melifonwu put up those times at the NFL Combine.
“I just wanted to show that being a taller guy that I’m smooth in and out of my brakes,” Melifonwu said.
Melifonwu’s combine resume is impressive, and the comparisions to Byron Jones, the former UConn defensive back that rode big-time combine numbers to a first-round selection in 2015 draft, are inevitable. That’s something Melifonwu doesn’t have a problem with.
“UConn is known for their DBs [defensive backs]. We have a bunch of DBs in the league,” Melifonwu said. “At the end of the day, the NFL is going to find the players and who they think is going to play.”
Aside from Thomas and Melifonwu, offensive tackle Andreas Knappe, linebacker Matt Walsh and kicker Bobby Puyol also had their share of moments at pro day.
Walsh put up an impressive 30 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press, which would have ranked second amongst all linebackers at the combine. He also demonstrated some versatility by running routes and catching passes from quarterback Garret Anderson. Walsh initially joined UConn as a fullback before switching to linebacker two seasons ago.
Puyol was perfect in his handful of field goal attempts, hitting his final attempts from 50 and 55 yards, but had some minor hiccups dealing with kickoffs.
The 6-foot-8, 325-pound Knappe posted a 40-yard dash time of 5.17 seconds in his only attempt before cutting his day short due to a tweaked hamstring. As one of the players who did not have a chance to showcase his skills at the combine, Knappe was happy with his performance.
“I think what I got to do today was good,” Knappe said. “I think I showcased that I can move and I can jump. Some of the critiques have been that I can’t.”
Even though returning head coach Randy Edsall did not recruit these players hoping to hear their name called in a few short weeks, he is still proud of the products UConn will hopefully be sending on to the NFL.
“I really think that people have a lot of respect for the program…I think that’s what we want to do, develop our kids and give them that opportunity to play at the next level,” Edsall said. “You see the hard work they put in, they’re being rewarded for that hard work, and now you know they have to continue that work. It’s a proud moment because you’re really happy for them. To get yourself to that level is hard.”