The NFL Scouting Combine is the ultimate job interview for more than 300 of the top college players. It’s an opportunity to prove yourself in front of every NFL head coach, assistant coach, general manager, scout and just about everyone else involved in NFL football operations who descend upon Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
For Steelers’ defensive end Cam Heyward the combine was a little different than for most. Heyward suffered an elbow injury in the Sugar Bowl, forcing him to have surgery that prevented him from taking part in the drills at the combine. He still had to go through the medical part of it, which was just as taxing.
Heyward shared some of his memories about the combine.
What is the overall combine experience like?
“There is no other place where you get judged on your athletic ability, your intelligence, how you deal with waking up early and all of the factors than at the combine. Everything goes in because the coaches and owners want to evaluate how you do under pressure. It’s the biggest job interview of your life.”
What were the interviews like at the combine?
“The crazy thing for me is I was hurt at the time so I had to use my brain, the way I talked, to get my point across. I was injured in the Sugar Bowl so I had to show I was a student of the game. What I couldn’t show on the field I had to make up in the conferences, meetings. Every team is there, scouts, everyone is there. It’s one of the craziest job interviews. You will never forget it.”
What are those interviews like with the coaches and general managers?
“You almost treat it like a competition. They are testing your knowledge to see if you are a sincere person and how much you care about this game. They can tell from the get go if you are serious about this and you want to excel at the next level. They don’t know you, why you love this game, what you want to do when you get in the league. All these different questions.
“With the Steelers we got to write essays to see what we are all about. It’s really cool. It’s more than just the interview. It’s a great process. It’s an essay about myself, what I thought were important character traits, things that make me the person I am. To be able to do it that way you get to know the person better.”
How crazy was all of that?
“I can say I felt like I was in ‘Men in Black’ being interrogated. You felt like an alien. Getting to know the teams, how they work, it’s a unique process. I can say from seeing all of it the Steelers are a one of a kind team.
“My mind was spinning so much. I think one of the craziest questions I was asked was where do you see yourself going in the draft? I answered in the first round, then asked do you see different. I was waiting for an answer back but never really got an answer or reply.”
Was it tough not to participate in the drills because of your injury?
“When you look at those attributes and stats that go along with your athletic ability, you want to measure yourself up with other guys. I never got a chance to do that. All of the guys in my draft class have been doing well, but I never got a chance to measure against them at the combine.”
What was it like going through all of the medical testing?
“Everyone wants their own take on it. Everyone thinks they are better. There is a competition going on there. You have to be patient and roll with the punches.
“If you have a surgery late enough they have you come back for another medical combine. Everyone was pulling on my arm, seeing if I am durable, if I have done rehab to see how serious I am. It’s nervousness and anxiousness as you go through the medical side.”
What was the best thing about the combine?
“Being able to meet coaches and portray what I thought was important. How I got here today and what I want to do going forward. I am optimistic so I didn’t think there was a worst part.”
What was the biggest surprise?
“Every detail that goes with it, from walking onto a stage in just your shorts and them judging you on that and more. You feel like you are in a beauty pageant. Every little detail, going to meet the scouts, coaches, the drug test. There are so many integral parts that go into the combine. It shows everyone has to do their due diligence to make a great decision in choosing a player.”