Road To The Pros
Draft stock is the name of the game for the 2015 NFL season, especially when it comes to the Missouri Tigers. Mizzou has a reputation of turning defensive ends to the pros year after year, not because they have connections, but because the athletes simply know how to compete.
Shane Ray came to Columbia as a three-star recruit out of Kansas who didn’t exactly knock anyone’s socks off. He was a self-described “knucklehead” who was more excited to be a kid than play football. His talents surpassed what he knew he was capable of when he arrived on campus.
Did he see this level of success coming? Working for a common goal is something that every player for a particular team strives for in the long run. But Ray’s role this year was a different one, on a team that was loaded with talent.
In the previous season, he’d been the benefactor of Michael Sam’s big payback. In a game against Georgia in 2013, Ray had sacked quarterback Aaron Murray, causing a fumble that Sam returned for an iconic touchdown. It endured as an all-encompassing image of what the future of Mizzou football looked like.
Sam lived in the limelight for most of the season alongside fellow defensive lineman Kony Ealy. Although Missouri had two players in Sam and Ealy who were clearly ready for the National Football League, another wave of players was waiting in the wings, anxious for their opportunity to arise.
At the conclusion of the 2013 season, the debt of Ray’s labor was finally repaid as Sam got to Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf in the 2014 Cotton Bowl. The sack caused a fumble that Ray picked up and returned 73 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
But was it just an accident? Was Ray the benefactor of a chance opportunity, or had the team been working toward a level of success that allowed this to happen?
To understand Mizzou football, and especially its decorated defense, it’s essential to explore exactly who is involved in pulling the strings.
Enter “Coach Cool.” For those who know the name, his presence is a testament as to why Missouri is enjoying success like a fisherman who finds bass jumping into his boat. For those who love Mizzou football and don’t know him, you will soon.
Craig Kuligowski is the defensive line coach for Missouri. His tenure alongside head football coach Gary Pinkel goes back to their days together at Toledo. Kuligowski has been instrumental in the past 19 seasons with Pinkel’s teams in crafting some of the best defensive linemen in the country.
Just how good is Coach Cool? His time at Missouri — since 2001 — has yielded an astonishing 22 defensive linemen who have received all-conference honors. Besides Ealy, Sam and Ray, he has coached the likes of Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Ziggy Hood and Mizzou’s most decorated all-conference lineman, Brian Smith.
Add Markus Golden to the mix, and suddenly you’ve got a tandem in Ray and Golden that could own any league they play in. Golden is a disciplined player who comes from St. Louis and simply knows how to be a team player. Golden finds a way to become involved and he’ll look good doing it.
In one of the most humbling moments of the past college football season, Golden called Ray up to the stage with him at the 2015 Citrus Bowl as he accepted the MVP award. Golden simply wanted Ray to be there with him when he accepted the award, an award Golden felt belonged to both of them.
Golden has no more years to offer to Mizzou, as his eligibility is up. Although Ray could have stayed for his senior campaign, he decided to enter the NFL draft this spring as an undergraduate. He is projected by many draft services to be picked within the first five selections of the first round. Golden is a first-round projection as well, giving the duo closure on what was a defensively memorable season.
What lies ahead for these two talented Tigers? Both athletes face big tests of skill and patience as they wait for their professional football fates to unfold.
At press time, the duo anxious awaited the start of the weeklong NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in mid-February.
Traditionally, “The Combine,” as it’s become known, is a major stage for players to gain or lose draft stock. Although pundits can and will spend the following 2½ months filling out mock drafts and speculating about what will happen when the NFL draft rolls around on April 30, ultimately it will be up to the players to make themselves stand out.
That shouldn’t be too hard, seeing both Ray and Golden are extremely competitive individuals.
Pinkel has had to deal with losing players early to the NFL nearly every year, especially when it comes to his defensive line. But if history is any indicator, Mizzou fans had better become accustomed to these spectacular, NFL-caliber ends.
As long as the “NFL pipeline” is intact, and Mizzou has top-notch facilities to provide to new recruits, Coach Cool will continue to turn two- and three-star recruits into professional players, a true testament to the ability of the coach and staff.
Ray and Golden will take the lessons they’ve learned on Faurot Field and mark their calendars for a date with destiny
Think You’ve Got What It Takes To Play In The NFL?
The NFL Scouting Combine tests everything from a player’s vertical leap to his IQ. Of course, there’s the standard height, weight and body fat percentage measurements, plus position-specific drills, but that’s just the beginning. By the end of the week, teams will have in-depth intel on every player at the event. Think you can match up with the pros? Here’s a rundown of the tests you would have to complete during the Combine, and some of the all-time records from the event.*
Starting from a three-point stance, you must run 40 yards as fast as you can. The split times, measured at 10 and 20 yards, are considered particularly important for offensive and defensive linemen who rarely have to run further than that.
Best Time: 4:12, Bo Jackson (1986)
The challenge here is to bench press 225 pounds as many times as you can. Quarterbacks and wide receivers get to skip this test.
Most Reps: 51, Justin Ernest (1999)
From a standing position, jump straight up as high as you can.
Highest Leap: 46 inches, Gerald Sensabaugh (2005)
Like the vertical jump, this one also begins from a stationary, standing position, but rather than leaping upward, you leap forward.
Longest Jump: 11 feet, 7 inches, Jamie Collins (2013)
In this test of agility and speed, you must go 5 yards laterally, then 10 back in the other direction, then 5 yards back to the starting point.
Swiftest Shuttle: 3.73 seconds, Kevin Kasper (2001)
In this agility test, you’ll run around three cones, placed in an L-shape. The cones are spaced 5 yards apart.
Speediest Cone Drill: 6.42 seconds, Jeff Maehl (2011)
This test of anaerobic strength requires you to run 5 yards and back, then 10 yards and back, then 15 yards and back, touching the line each time.
Fastest to 60: 10.75 seconds, (TIE) Buster Skrine (2011) and Jamell Fleming (2012)
Psychological & Intelligence Tests
The NFL has been using the Wonderlic intelligence test since the 1970s to evaluate players. In 2013, it added an additional assessment tool to get a more comprehensive assessment of each player’s intelligence, aptitude and strengths. The tests measure learning styles, motivation, decision-making, response to unexpected stimuli, and core intelligence. Results of these tests are confidential.
Doctors will check you over for injuries, screen you for drug use, and put you through something called a Cybex test. In the Cybex test, players are hooked to a machine that evaluates their flexibility, which can be particularly important to NFL scouts who want to know if a player has recovered fully from a past injury.
*The NFL did not begin keeping even unofficial combine records until 1999. All records are considered unofficial.
By Invitation Only
The NFL Scouting Combine invites up to 335 of the finest college football players to participate in the weeklong evaluation. Executives, coaches, trainers and other representatives from all 32 NFL teams are on hand to evaluate and interview the players. Only players who receive an official invitation may participate. The good news for guys with NFL dreams who didn’t score an invitation? Many players who failed to receive an invitation to the Combine have gone on to successful careers in the NFL. Just ask pro standouts Wes Welker and Osi Umenyiora, who were left sitting at home during Combine week.