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Brian Winters' impact on the Kent State football program is still being felt in a major way, even though he has run out of eligibility.
Thanks to the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Hudson native, who started a school-record 50 games on the offensive line for the Golden Flashes over the past four years, 24 NFL teams and a CFL squad sent representatives to the Kent State Field House for the team's annual Pro Day on Wednesday.
By comparison, about six teams were represented a year ago, and KSU officials on hand could not remember any more than nine being present in the past. Pittsburgh alone sent three officials, and the New York Giants had two reps on hand.
Winters is projected to be taken no later than the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, which will be held April 25-27 in New York. Winters' inability to complete drills during the NFL Combine late last month because of a strained pectoral muscle drew the large number of scouts and coaches to Kent on Tuesday, as they wanted to make sure he was healthy.
"It's really nice," said a smiling Winters of the turnout, following Wednesday's workout. "They were all at the combine. I'm really blessed that they took the time out of their day to come watch me here, which was awesome. It was the same crowd. I felt comfortable with all the guys on my team being here, and I had a good day. I feel I prepared well and did well."
Winters did not bench press on Wednesday because of his injury, but took part in the rest of the timed and individual drills. He was particularly impressive with his lateral movement, completing the short shuttle in 4.7 seconds, while his vertical jump was 31.5 inches and his broad jump was 8 feet, 11 inches. Experts on hand believe Winters would record the highest bench press numbers of any draft prospect if he was healthy.
"It was nothing major, just a little strain in my chest, but I just have to lay off it for a couple weeks," said Winters. "I'm gonna wait probably another month or so, then someone will probably come in here and record me. (My doctor and agent) don't want me to rush it. I'm gonna do what they tell me and see how it goes."
Winters admits that being forced to withdraw from the NFL Combine scared him initially.
"At first (slipping in the draft) was going through my head. But I calmed down, talked to my agent, and talked to all the head coaches," said Winters. "They said I'll be fine, this isn't going to affect me, as long as I was healthy for (Pro Day) I'd be good. I felt like I ran well, did the drills well and was in shape."
Winters played left tackle at Kent State for the past three seasons, but may be converted to guard at the pro level. A scout from the New York Giants even had Winters make a few snaps as a center at the end of Wednesday's workout.
Pro Day is the latest in a self-described "whirlwind" of draft-related events that Winters has taken part in since the Golden Flashes culminated the best season in school history with a 17-13 loss to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Jan. 6 in Mobile, Ala. Following the bowl game, Winters went to Florida to train, then back to Mobile for the Senior Bowl, then back to Florida, then to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine.
"It's been pretty ridiculous, pretty wild, but it's exciting," said Winters. "It's a big old whirlwind, a lot of traveling. But it's a good thing."
While all the Flashes who took part in Pro Day benefitted from the added exposure brought on by Winters, no one has gained more attention from his teammate than Josh Kline.
Kline played alongside Winters at left guard, opening holes for 1,000-yard rushers Dri Archer and Trayion Durham last season. He took part in individual drills along with Winters, and scouts seemed to come away impressed by both Kent State linemen.
"It actually worked out that Brian didn't do the (NFL) Combine. It helped me a little bit by sending more scouts my way," said Kline, a 6-3, 310-pounder from Mason, who started for the Flashes the past three seasons. "I feel we did very well today. I felt real loose. I tried not to worry about my times or anything. You've just gotta do your best, and I think I did that very well."
Kline has a good chance to be taken late in the draft, according to various sources.
"Getting drafted is my goal. We'll see what happens," said Kline. "Hopefully I get drafted, but if not, then I'll work hard to try to get on a team as a free agent."
The Tennessee Titans did not send a representative to Wednesday's Pro Day, but have arranged a private workout for Winters and Kline on Friday morning. They will also fly Winters to their training facility on April 1.
Other Flashes hoping to make a positive impression on scouts included linebacker Luke Batton, who had the top time in the three-cone run (6.88), and kicker Freddy Cortez, who was connecting on field goals from 55 yards out.
Wide receiver Eric Adeyemi had the best time in the 40-yard dash (4.48) and the longest distance in the broad jump (10-1).
Running back Larry Dawson clocked the best times in both the short shuttle (4.2) and long shuttle (11.2). He also had the best vertical jump at 34.5 inches.
Other participants included defensive lineman Dana Brown, quarterback Spencer Keith, defensive backs Norman Wolfe, Sid Saulter and Leon Green, linebacker C.J. Malauula, long snapper Ryan Hidalgo and wide receiver Matt Hurdle.