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NFL evaluates the Eagles at Pro Day
McKinnon works on defensive back drills. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Georgia Southern’s pro day used have a player, maybe two, and a handful of NFL scouts.
    Not so anymore.
    The event has exploded over the past couple of years, and Thursday afternoon in Paulson Stadium, representatives of 16 NFL programs evaluated 14 former Eagles.
    One reason for the attention being paid to GSU is the success of former Eagles J.J. Wilcox and Darius Eubanks in the league as rookies last season. Wilcox started five games and recorded 38 tackles as a safety with the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 and Eubanks appeared in nine games, including one start, with the Cleveland Browns.
    The other reason for the scouts’ interest was obvious – Jerick McKinnon.
    “They couldn’t wait to get down here to see him,” said Victor Cabral, a former GSU player and coach who was retained as a member of the football staff by first-year head coach Willie Fritz.
    Fritz was pleasantly surprised with the turnout, too.
    “I’ve had quite a few kids get drafted over the years at the different places I’ve been at, but I’ve never had this number of scouts come out for a pro day,” he said.
    McKinnon didn’t try to improve on his numbers from the NFL Combine on Feb. 23, most notably 32 bench presses at 225 pounds and a 4.41-second 40-yard dash. Instead, he participated in numerous pos ition drills, including running back, defensive back and punt return.
    He also spent time getting to know some of the scouts.
    “I just wanted to finish what I started at the Combine and take a step up,” McKinnon said. “I want to make sure these coaches feel comfortable with me as an athlete and a person.”
    The other Eagle at the Combine was cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks, who unlike McKinnon, wasn’t happy with his numbers. Though 40 times weren’t made available Thursday, Westbrooks knows he added five reps to his bench press (20) and felt better about his 40 time after a disappointing 4.65 seconds on Feb. 25.
    “I had to show the scouts that I wasn’t satisfied with what I did at the Combine,” Westbrooks said. “There’s no pressure at all. You just go out there and have fun, fly around. Out here we have shorts and t-shirts on, but in a game you’ve got your pads on and you’ve got your teammates.”
    Also working out for scouts were 2013 graduates William Banks (RB), Johnathan Bryant (RB), Dorian Byrd (RB/TE), Carlos Cave (LB), Torrance Hunt (RB), Allen Lee (WR), Kyle Oehlbeck (LB), Blake Riley (DL), Josh Rowe (LB) and Darius Safford (DB). From the 2012 class were Dion DuBose (LB/S) and John Stevenson (LB).
    HUnt got audible responces from the scouts when he was timed on the 40. Though official times weren't made available, word got around that he ran a wind-aided 40 in a lightening-fast 4.19 seconds.

In the house
    Wilcox and Eubanks weren’t the only former Eagles supporting Georgia Southern’s NFL hopefuls. Former greats Tracy Ham, Raymond Gross and Tim Durden were also lending their support.
    “You don’t just play football with all of these guys, you build a bond with them, with their families and with their friends. It’s a brotherhood,” Wilcox said.

Not giving up
    Stevenson made the cut in 2013 signing with the New York Giants, who signed four of 66 from a rookie minicamp. Stevenson, however, didn’t make the final cut.
    “It was tough,” he said, “but I went back home and kept training. I never really stopped training, losing the vision or losing the faith.”
    Since then, he’s improved his strength and speed measurables.
    “I want to show them I stuck with it. I didn’t give up,” Stevenson said. “That’s the main thing I want to show these scouts. Not only did I not give up, I got better. Nobody knew me coming into my senior year. I was watching playoff games my junior year from the stands. I was on the scout team, and I was out of position playing linebacker at under 200 pounds. (The Giants) brought me in at safety without ever seeing it on film. It’s basically a miracle man. I’m just thankful for the chance.”

The new digs
    The nearly-completed deck on Paulson Stadium and the new Football Operations Center, still under construction, were popular topics of conversation for those in attendance.
    “It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? It’s unbelievable,” Cabral said. “You walk in here, and you say, ‘This is a D-I facility.’ It’s awesome.”
    “We’re competing now with Conference USA and Sun Belt schools for recruits, and it all starts here,” Fritz added. “We want to win Sun Belt championships, and this is a good start.”

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.