Former Griz Players Dream of Hearing Their Names in NFL Draft
The NFL Draft got underway on Thursday, and as the weekend progresses, several former Montana Grizzly players dream of hearing their names called.
KGVO News spoke to Eric Taber, Associate University of Montana Athletic Director for football to get details on the individual Griz players who participated in April’s Pro Day at the Champions Center at Washington Grizzly Stadium.
Griz Players are Anxiously Watching the NFL Draft
“There's a big waiting game at this point for these guys,” began Taber. “They've been working long and hard to try and get their names called over the course of this weekend at the NFL draft and it's out of their control at this point. So there are eight Grizzlies that went through a Pro Day and now they’ll just wait and see if they can get a call.”
Taber counted off the familiar names who distinguished themselves while playing for Montana in the past four seasons.
Patrick O'Connell and Justin Ford have the best Chance of Being Drafted
“The two names that most people associate with this year's draft from the Grizzlies are Patrick O'Connell and Justin Ford; linebacker and cornerback,” he said. “They were just two great players for the Grizzlies, but also on the radar for NFL teams include Eli Alford defensive lineman; Adam Botkin; one of our kickers from last year who's from Frenchtown; Jaden Dawson, who's another cornerback for the Griz; and then of course, our record setting kick returner Malik Flowers. He is also potentially expected to have his name called and then there’s linebacker Marcus Welnel, who also participated in Pro Day.”
Taber said once the final whistle blew for the Griz last season, all the players with hopes of playing at the next level began intense preparations for the possible opportunity of playing in the NFL.
“After the season is over is when that process really starts ramping up,” he said. “The guys start training and some get invited to all-star games. Patrick O'Connell and Justin Ford got invited to this year's Hula Bowl, and both were just outstanding in that game. Also at those games, the players get the opportunity to talk to scouts from all the teams and they play for coaches from NFL teams, so that's where they really get immersed in the process.”
There are also Opportunities Once the NFL Draft is Over
Taber said most of the Grizzly players understand that they probably won’t hear their names called during the NFL draft weekend, but what happens after the draft could make a big difference for their dreams of playing professionally.
“After the draft is over, teams that don't have those 70 to 80 players or whatever the number is on their roster will look for free agents or undrafted free agents,” he said. “So each team to make up numbers will go and get undrafted free agents and that happens as soon as minutes after the draft is over. I remember Dante Olson back in 2019. He didn't get drafted, but literally an hour after the draft was over, he received a phone call from Philadelphia and was signed with the Eagles.”
Taber said over 150 players from the University of Montana have played in the NFL or the CFL (Canadian Football League).