Hines Ward knows exactly what many college players are going through at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. He went through it in 1998 when he was coming out of the University of Georgia and hoping for his shot at the NFL, a shot that came when he was drafted by the Steelers.
"It was nerve-racking," said Ward. "You are amongst all of these prospects. They all have one goal, and that is to make it to the NFL. It was kind of weird for me because I had success in the SEC. Going to the Combine they measure how fast you are, how high you can jump and bench press.
"The one thing they don't measure at the Combine is heart. There are a lot of players that may not test well or be the fastest guy, but there are a lot of football players that have a lot of heart and are great players. I wasn't the biggest, I wasn't the fastest, but I had a passion for football."
There was an eye-opening experience for Ward when he attended the Combine, something that came courtesy of all of the poking and prodding that takes place with all of the athletic trainers and team doctors there doing exams.
"Ironically for me, going there and being tugged on was the first time I found out I didn't have an ACL in my left knee," said Ward. "It was shocking news to me. Here I am, I played sports my entire life and I got to the Combine and I don't have an ACL. I was like good, I can't tear it. They told me it wasn't good. I was a high risk draft choice.
"Thankfully Coach (Bill) Cowher, they looked at my resume and the body of work I did at the University of Georgia and took a chance on me in the third round. I was very thankful. I got everything I wanted out of football. I always wanted to represent our organization in the best way both on and off the field. To be a part of history for the Steelers winning two Super Bowls was a blessing."
Ward said the key for today's players to get the most out of what they want in football is to be smart. Players are under a microscope not just at the Combine, but with what they do on a daily basis.
"Organizations want to know what they are investing in," said Ward. "The thing now that is so different is social media. Some of these guys don't realize what they put out on social media the organizations look at it. It can cost a player millions of dollars if they see the things they are doing with social media. A lot of the kids don't look at social media as it can hurt me. If an organization is investing a lot of money into a player, they want to make sure there are no red flags. A lot of times the red flags are right there on their social media accounts.
"I do speaking engagements and warn players about social media. I tell them teams are going to do their homework. They are going to talk to teachers, professors and find out what kind of prospect they are getting."