Seniors Torrey Gill and Derrick Lawrence are taking steps to earn recognition from NFL scouts, having most recently participated in an NFL Regional Combine hosted by the New Orleans Saints March 12-13.
At the combine, which was by invitation only, athletes from across the country performed for an audience of NFL scouts representing all 32 teams in the league.
Gill and Lawrence, who both said they were the only two NAIA athletes at the event, joined hundreds of other hopefuls at the Saints? practice facility to participate in workout and position drills.
Perhaps the most widely recognized drill is the 40-yard dash. Gill covered the distance in 4.58 seconds. Lawrence ran a 4.8. Other workout drills included vertical and broad jumps and a shuttle run.
The two also participated in drills specific to their respective positions. Both were pleased with their performances. Gill said he did not drop a ball in his wide receiver drills, while Lawrence said he was pleased with his performance in the linebacker drills.
For the 6-foot, 1-inch Lawrence, continuing to play at the next level will mean making the transition from the defensive line to linebacker because of his size.
Learning the new position has been a challenge, he said, adding that he will continue to work with Tabor?s coaches to make the transition as smooth as possible.
?My biggest challenge is going to be learning coverages because on the D-line, I?m used to just going,? he said. ?You really don?t have to think much, you just go and hit whatever?s in the backfield. You play linebacker, you have to be a little bit smarter.?
Lawrence is completing his fifth year as a Bluejay. He redshirted his first year on campus, and has since developed into a formidable presence on Tabor?s defensive line.
This season, Lawrence helped anchor a Bluejay defense that ranked fifth in sacks (37), defense per game (289.5) and scoring defense per game (16.1); seventh in rushing defense per game (107.2) and 17th in pass defense per game (182.3).
In his senior campaign, Lawrence recorded 8.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss, numbers which ranked him 13th in NAIA Division I. He averaged 7.8 tackles per game and 1.5 tackles for a loss.
Lawrence was named to the All-KCAC first-team defense the past two seasons and was a USA All-American both years. He also earned honors on the 2015 NAIA Coaches? All-America second team defense.
Lawrence?s highlight of his career came during Tabor?s Nov. 7 game with Bethany. He recorded 15 tackles, five tackles for a loss, three sacks and a pass break-up in Tabor?s 57-14 victory.
?That was my best game,? he said. ?There were a lot of plays that I interrupted that I didn?t get stats for, but it messed up their offense. I messed up their groove, just being in the way.?
Lawrence will graduate in May with a degree in strength and conditioning and a minor in coaching.
For Gill, meanwhile, a wide receiver in Tabor?s run-heavy triple option offense, simply the opportunity to compete at the combine was a big deal.
?We run the ball pretty much 70-80 percent of the time, so for me to even be able to get invited to something like that is a humbling experience,? he said. ?I?m very grateful for it.?
Gill came to Tabor as a junior college transfer out of Itawamba Community College. After redshirting his first year at Tabor, he played two seasons with the Bluejays.
In his senior campaign, Gill hauled in 35 receptions for 421 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 38.3 receiving yards per game.
Tabor tallied 3,308 rushing yards and 1,643 passing yards this season.
Gill was an honorable mention All-KCAC selection on offense the past two seasons.
The highlight of his Tabor career, he said, was the genuine people he met along the way?coaches, teammates and others in Hillsboro. On the field, Gill?s best memory was winning the KCAC title and hosting a national playoff game.
?I?ve never won a ring before, and so being able to go undefeated in the conference and clinch the conference championship at home, that was surreal,? he said. ?Also, hosting the playoff game. My whole senior season was exciting.?
Gill will graduate in May with a degree in coaching.
Hope for the future
Both Gill and Lawrence are hopeful for the opportunity to continue to play ball at the next level and are leaving their options open. Other possibilities include playing overseas or in the Canadian Football League.
Lawrence said an arena team has also showed interest in him.
?The biggest goal is the NFL, and if it doesn?t work out, I can fall back on something else,? he said. ?I still want to play football, so whatever is available is what I?ll do.?
Gill said he believes he has a chance to be invited to a team?s minicamp. He is thankful for the opportunities he?s been given.
?I try to be influential to people in town or people in my hometown as well, just to show kids, you keep God first and you stay confident and you keep a humble heart, that you can achieve anything,? Gill said. ?To be able to be in the position I am in now, I?m just grateful for it, honestly, because I really feel like I have a chance to continue to play football.?
In the meantime, the two continue to work out and hone their skills.
Gill and Lawrence were planning to participate in an NFL Pro Day at Pittsburg State University Tuesday, where they were to perform similar drills in hopes of bettering their marks.
?For my pro day, I?m just looking to continue to do better on the drills that I did at the combine and have fun,? Gill said. ?I want to use the pro day (as) a testament to continue to show off my skills and show guys that I belong there now.?
Lawrence and Gill will do what they can to make an impression.
?There?s going to be some NFL scouts there, so we?re just going to do what we can to stand out since we do go to a small school,? Lawrence said. ?Most of the athletes have agents, and we?re doing everything on our own. I think we?ve done a good job so far getting as far as we?ve got without an agent.?