If any members of the University at Buffalo football team needed additional motivation for the school’s Pro Day, it could be found standing in the end zone.
That’s where Khalil Mack, Branden Oliver, Jake Schum and Naaman Roosevelt were parked inside the AdPro Sports Training Center on Wednesday, watching as 11 Bulls auditioned to join them in the professional ranks.
“It’s exciting to see those guys come back,” UB tight end Matt Weiser said after his workout. “They’ve obviously all had a lot of success, and they’ve done it just like we have. So it’s exciting to see them and it kind of gives you more motivation. You want to be the next guy to do that.”
The odds of that happening, quite frankly, are long. Only scouts from two NFL teams – the hometown Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers – were in attendance Wednesday at the Bills’ practice facility. But that’s not to say it can’t happen. Schum, a punter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just finished his first season. Oliver, a running back, has played the past two years with the San Diego Chargers.
Both of them were undrafted free agents, as was Roosevelt, who previously spent time with the Bills and is currently with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.
“You look at guys like Khalil, Bo … how they train, it’s a huge motivator for me,” UB offensive tackle John Kling said. “To keep pushing, get that extra rep, run that extra lap, just do better. Yeah, it’s been huge.”
Kling, who is 6-foot-7, 315 pounds and has a 7-foot wingspan, might have the best pro prospects given his ideal measurables. The Depew High School product was generally satisfied with his performance Wednesday, participating in the usual combine-like gantlet of the 40-yard dash, bench press, broad and vertical jumps and positional drills.
“I felt like I did pretty well. It all came down to showing them that I’m an athlete,” he said. “These tests are all about a totally different kind of training than football training. Now that we’re done running and jumping, you’ve got to focus on getting football strong again.”
Weiser’s main focus was demonstrating his speed. His 63 catches for 625 yards shattered the single-season school records for a tight end and ranked second in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in catches and third in yards.
“That was a big focus for me. A lot of people questioned my speed,” said Weiser, who ran the 40 in the range of 4.7 seconds. “They weren’t sure if I was as fast as other tight ends, so I really focused on that when I was training. I felt like I came out here and ran a good time … so I’m excited about that.”
Weiser also has good physical measurables at 6-5, 255 pounds. In addition to speed work, blocking has been a focus during his training.
“When I was training, we had some position coaches come in and really focus on my blocking,” he said. “I’ve felt confident in my pass-catching ability. I think I’ve shown that over the last season, but then I’ve really focused on blocking technique, footwork, hands, so I think that’s another aspect of my game I can really sell myself in.”
Weiser looked comfortable catching passes Wednesday, which isn’t much of a surprise given that they were coming from Joe Licata.
The Williamsville South product texted with Weiser in the days leading up to the workout coming up with a script.
“It’s helpful to be with a guy you have that chemistry with,” Weiser said. “That comfort level makes everything easier.”
Licata finished his collegiate career as UB’s all-time leader in passing yards (9,485), attempts (1,359) and touchdowns (76).
“I was happy with today’s results,” he said. “Getting out and throwing, I wanted to show athleticism and that I can throw the deep ball – that I have the ability to throw the ball accurately. I thought it was a very good day for us.”
Licata’s biggest question when it comes to the NFL is how he’ll stack up physically against other prospects. There is no such concern when it comes to the mental part of the game.
“The cerebral part of things, when you put him on a board and talk, you’ll find out that he can definitely hold his own,” UB coach Lance Leipold said. “He knows the game and is always willing to learn more. I think that’s important.
“His arm strength, from what we saw, was definitely what we needed. That’s up to NFL personnel to decide those things. This last season, his courage and accuracy … I think are some things you always can’t teach and he definitely has those.”
Licata was realistic about his professional prospects after the workout.
“Hopefully I get picked up and get a fair opportunity. That’s all I want,” he said. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted was just a chance to prove I’m worth it and to latch onto an NFL team.”
Just ask Oliver what can come from that chance.
“Yeah man, I’m trying to tell them. They men just like us,” Oliver said. “Don’t be anxious about anything. You’ve been doing it your whole life. Just go out there and have fun, put on a show. Don’t feel any type of any pressure or anything like that. It’s something you’ve been doing, something you’ve been dreaming about so just make it happen right now.”
Despite playing in California, both Oliver and Mack train in Buffalo in the offseason. Their presence around the team is an undeniable boost to the program.
“We always want to let these guys know we’re here for them,” said Oliver, who trains with John Opfer at Proformance Sports Training in the Northtown Center at Amherst. “Me and Mack, we’re only two years out of this thing. We shared blood, sweat and tears with those guys. They know it can happen.”
Other Bulls players who took part in the Pro Day were linebacker Okezie Alozie, cornerback Marqus Baker, offensive lineman Robert Blodgett, linebacker Nick Gilbo, punter Tyler Grassman, fullback Kendall Patterson, linebacker Travis Pitzonka and linebacker Kyril Threats. Buffalo State offensive lineman Brandon Lathrop and former UB player Adam Redden also participated.