IU Football Seniors Talk About Challenges of Preparing and Auditioning for Professional Opportunities

Reakwon Jones, Simon Stepaniak, Nick Westbrook and other former IU football players were supposed to perform in front of NFL scouts and executives at the program’s Pro Day on Tuesday.  Of course due to the coronavirus pandemic, that event was canceled.

Instead, the trio spoke to the media on Tuesday about their efforts to continue training and preparing for the opportunity to workout in front of league representatives, whenever that might be.  You can read the transcript of their comments below.

For other players, such as kicker Logan Justus, auditioning has meant recording a video of their pro day.  You can watch that below as well.

Transcript via iuhoosiers.com

WR Nick Westbrook

Q: On not having the pro day at IU…
WESTBROOK: Pretty disappointed. When I first heard about it and how everything’s played out so far, it’s not looking like it’s going to happen. The biggest thing is I feel like for all of us, especially for me, I went off and started in an Olympic training facility out in Seattle. I’m working my tail off and everything is leading toward that date. It’s like the first game of the season. You’re going through fall camp and everything is all building up. It gets to a point where you’re just getting antsy and you want it to come already. You’re like I’m ready to perform, I’ve done everything I can to be ready for this moment. For it not to be there it’s kind of tough to handle, especially for a guy like me who didn’t get a combine invite. I had a lot to prove and I feel like I could’ve proved it at the pro day. I really could’ve benefitted from it. We’ll deal with what’s happening because this is unprecedented times for sure.

Q: On getting on the radar of NFL teams…
WESTBROOK: I did the video route. I was actually in Seattle, which is like an epicenter of where this whole virus started. I kind of got worried that travel and stuff was going to get slowed down, banned and stuff like that so I left early. Like the day before I left, I just did like an impromptu pro day. It wasn’t ideal because I was still in full training. I wasn’t able to cut back the way I want to before pro day and get my body right but just recorded all the different drills that I needed to do. My agent got all those clips and compiled them all together and sent them out to all the teams. Unfortunately, I wish I was able to a professional videographer that could put it together but under the circumstance I had to make the best with what I had just to show myself.

Q: On new receivers stepping up…
WESTBROOK: I know Ty (Fryfogle) is ready for it. He was ready for it last year and it showed. For sure he’s making huge plays. After that last game against Tennessee I talked to him in the locker room and he’s ready for it. He knows he’s ready for it. The big thing for him is to keep playing with confidence that he has. Him and Whop (Philyor) together are deadly. I’m not worried about them at all. I think they’re going to do better than what we’ve done in the past.

Q: On being able to get in front of NFL scouts at the Shrine Game…
WESTBROOK: Especially looking back now at how everything has played out, I am extremely grateful for it. I was already just grateful in general to go through such an awesome experience being there for a week, playing with all the different players and meeting with all the scouts. Now with how everything has unfolded, I definitely feel like I got a leg up on guys who didn’t get that invite and also didn’t have a combine invite. All they have to show is just a quick video of all the different drills. Being able to talk to all the different scouts and getting that face time, I felt good about all the interviews I participated in. It definitely helped my stock out being able to go to that and performing well in the practices and actually being able to get face time with the scouts.

Q: On NFL teams making contact with your agent…
WESTBROOK: I’ve had a few phone calls. My agent said he’s talked to quite a few people as well. The biggest thing is they are really trying to figure it out as well so that’s what I’m still kind of wondering is how all of this is going to play out. With rookie minicamp and that kind of stuff, that happens after the draft. It doesn’t actually affect the draft. It’ll affect the number of undrafted free agents once the draft is over. Just kind of a lot of question marks but I have had some feedback just reaching out kind of getting to know me a little bit more and also with my agent as well.

Q: On what has been the most difficult part for you and your family this past month…
WESTBROOK: One thing that I’ve felt that’s tough for me right now because where we used to live when I was in high school and we had a place to train, we’re not there anymore so when I would come back home over the last couple years, I would try to go just to a local gym. Not having a facility like that that I can go to makes it tough. Now you got to get creative to find a way to workout. And also sticking to my diet plan. It’s a little healthier than it used to be. Getting food delivered from publics and making sure it’s all the right stuff and not actually being able to go pick it out yourself makes it a little bit tougher. Then working out the other day, had my mom was there too and we were using a sandbag from my dad that uses it for photography because I really don’t have any dumbbells. It’s just got to be creative what I do to stay in shape. It’s kind of fun at the same time to be able to say I’m going through this and hopefully if everything works out, I’ll get in the league and look back at my story and my journey and how I was able to do that and how I was basically doing Rocky workouts in my backyard and driveway.

Q: On timeline of leaving Seattle to go home and workout…
WESTBROOK: I can’t remember the exact date right now but I want to say it was about two weeks ago. It was like a Sunday two weeks ago and I got there to start training right after the Shrine game was over and had been training all that time and it was like March 14 maybe March 15 was the day that I came back.

Q: On the mental or physical aspect being the most difficult…
WESTBROOK: Definitely mental. You’re kind of stuck in the house like everybody who’s going through the same situation. Just trying to find a way to stay busy and not get disturbed easy or get cabin fever. Also, just the mental side of not knowing what’s going to happen or if the draft even does happen as planned and I make a team, how long does it take before things get normal again with training camps starting up and mini camps starting up and working on actually working with that team. It’s just kind of all those unknowns that’s going on right now is probably the hardest thing mentally to deal with. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on what coach Allen and all my coaches and probably every coach across America is trying to say, just control what you can control. That’s just how I approach this and staying ready for whatever happens.

LB Reakwon Jones

Q: How are you adapting to the change in schedule and what do lose by not getting a work out in at Pro Day in Indiana?
JONES: Right now, I’m actually training in Colorado. I started training in Colorado in January and I was there until about March 14th, 15th. That’s when things started to get serious about the coronavirus so I ended up catching a flight back to Florida. We are actually on lock down but we have no curfew. So really now it’s just trying to find places to work out that aren’t closed; trying to find fields to use that aren’t closed. That’s kind of how it’s been for me the past few weeks, just trying to find a place to work out. I’m just trying to stay ready and get better even through this process.

Q: What are the specific work outs that you are doing?
JONES: Down here I’m back with Johnathan Crawford and (Donavan Hams). We all work out together. They closed all the gyms here and the training facilities. So, me and Johnathan will typically go jump and fence to get on some grass to be able to do drills. The workouts we do, we throw a few speed workouts in there to continue to get faster and keep the spirits up. We work on our hips, coming in and out of our breaks, transitioning; working on those little movements and details so when the opportunity does come and I’m in a camp I can stand out as a guy who’s been working on those little things, and on those details. With this Pro Day being canceled its kind of hard because I don’t really get that opportunity to sit there, be in that environment, talk with guys, show them who I am, get to know them better and also take coaching and perform drills and talk about getting better in those situations too.

Q: You participated in the Tropical Bowl. What kind of experience was that?
JONES: The Tropical Bowl was definitely a good experience. I go to meet a lot of cool guys from different schools. I think they said it was 28 to 30 scouts in attendance from each team. We saw the scouts at practice, at our hotels, we had meetings with them and we were able to talk with them and get to know them. That was a great experience and I was blessed to have the opportunity to go over there and showcase my character and what I can do on the field. Also, to be around other great players, it kind of pushes you to be better and continue to work harder.

Q: With the emergence of the XFL, is that another good option for guys who are trying to make it to the league?
JONES: Yea the XFL I thought it was a good league this year. I definitely tuned into a few games. That’s something that could be very positive for players. Especially during times like these with what’s going on, it makes it a bit harder to evaluate certain players. You just don’t know how they’re going to approach this whole situation so I think the XFL is a good asset to have in our tool box.

Q: What feedback to you receive at the Tropical Bowl about your game and yourself?
JONES: I was able to sit down with the Chargers, which was really good. That was one of the teams that really caught my attention. They called me in for a personal meeting. We were talking about the season, talking about Indiana in general. They were telling me that they liked how a looked, how a played, the effort that I played with, they liked my footwork outside the box. Back then they were asking about Pro Day and what I expect, and what they expect. We were just talking getting to know each other and that’s kind of the vibe I was getting from them. I know some scouts also talked to my agent at the end of the day and I got good feedback that they were interested, that they like you and that they wanted to stay in contact with you. Like I said it was a great opportunity just to be a part of that.

Q: You mentioned that without Pro Day you’re not going to be able to show teams who you really are as much. How have you been interacting with them now that you’re back home?
JONES: I haven’t really done anything. I’ve tried to continue just to work and whenever a scout texts me or reaches out to me, we converse for a little while and I let them know that I’m continuing to work even with all the stuff going on with the coronavirus. Nothing on my part has really changed. All I can do is work and control what I can control. It’s just been working and grinding for me.

Q: What specifically have you been able to do in regards to working out besides running? Have you had to improvise?
JONES: Yeah, big improvise for me. I don’t have any weights at home. I do have a few bands that I can use to do what I can. Mostly right now it’s just push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, stretching and then a whole bunch of running and different types of field work since they closed all the gyms.

Q: Does the adversity your family went through a couple of years ago help you through a situation like this one?
JONES: Oh yeah. It’s kind of different but this is another one of those things that’s out of my control. I’ve just got to let things play out. I talk to my mom every day and she’s been with me through this whole process, she understands what’s going on with everything that’s happening worldwide. She’s been in my ear. We’re not too stressed out about the situation because like you said, we’ve been through adversity before, we’ve battled. It was like a pandemic to us in my area with everything being destroyed. So, she’s just staying in my ear and we both keep telling each other everything is going to work out and it’s in God’s control.

OL Simon Stepaniak

Q: What have you been doing to work out and what have you been doing with the lack of facilities here at IU specifically.
STEPANIAK: Yeah, it has definitely been a shock for me and everyone. I’m back here in Hamilton, Ohio. I’m actually able to continue me rehab, that’s going great. And a buddy has a little house gym down in the basement that I’ve been able to get access to a couple times a week. Thankfully I haven’t had to skip too much of a beat with all this going on. It’s definitely put a strain on things.

Q: How is your rehab going with the coronavirus cancelations?
STEPANIAK: The biggest thing affecting me right now is access to a turf field. Rehab is going great though. I’m able to do all of my tasks and do football position work and all that stuff. The only thing it’s in gym shoes and it’s on a rubber floor at Athletico. So that definitely as a different feeling than what we’re going to have to be ready for when football does pick up again. It’s a blessing that I have still been able to get my rehab in at a quality amount, and I can’t be mad at anything I getting right now.

Q: Who is your agent and are there ways about how they’re having to be creative during this process?
STEPANIAK: My agent is Jason Burnstine. He’s been tremendous throughout this whole thing. He’s putting me in all the right positions. I had a facetime chat with the Jaguars a couple of days ago, I’ve talked to the 49ers, Dolphins, Bengals and I’ll be talking to a couple more in the upcoming days. He’s been really proactive in this situation. He’s been able to travel to teams and get that face-to-face contact with them. He’s been setting that up beautifully, so props to him and all he does for me.

Q: On opportunity of being able to workout at the combine…
STEPANIAK: I’m thankful for that opportunity every day. Getting to this point now where everything is shut down and seeing all my teammates that deserved that opportunity that could’ve well been there and put on for IU. It hurts knowing that a lot of guys are going to have a harder opportunity not being able to showcase their skills and being able to do pro day and show them how valuable they are. It was definitely a blessing to be able to get there and to get to know the coaches and have them check out my body. All the medical staffs checked out my body and they were already pleased. There’s no hesitation or anything like that. They all believe it’s going to be a nice, clean recovery. It’s just having that hands on with the actual team doctors getting face-to-face with the coaches is huge.

Q: On comfort of what you’ve shown coaches, especially at the combine…
STEPANIAK: Absolutely. Just as the combine and having FaceTime calls with teams, I really rely on my film and my knowledge of the game. Being able to show like I’m the guy that can play whatever position they need me to play. That was really huge because at pro day I wasn’t going to do any of the drills or anything, obviously. Being on the film and showing my tape and seeing that I can show them I can play. Just the knowledge of it. They know that physical side is going to be there. The brain and knowledge side of the game is always there and just continuing to get better.

Q: On the creative ways of keeping your name out there during this time…
STEPANIAK: My agents contacted me a couple times and just being in talks. Since he has other clients as well, he’s always in contact with all the teams whether it’s getting people contracts or resigning in free agency. He’s always mentioning the guys that are currently in my position. He always calls me after he’s done talking to a team or whoever that is and just updates me what they think. If they want to set up a phone call, we’ll set up a phone call or FaceTime whatever it is. I’ll honestly get cold calls from teams that want to set them up just through me. I think a lot of that came from the combine and talking to them the first time. They just want to set up another call and get to know me more. A lot of them have wanted to fly me out to do all the visits and have their docs look at me again but obviously, we can’t. All that and visits are moving to FaceTime now, which is pretty weird. Just being on the phone with a football staff and having to draw on a notepad and do all that stuff and still have to show what you know and comprehend what they’re going to teach you, it’s an interesting situation.

Q: On the recovery from injury…
STEPANIAK: I’m going to Athletico right now. That’s pretty well what was going on at IU. I can’t thank the guys at IU enough for taking care of me, coach Allen, all the coaches and all the training staff for taking care of me throughout this whole thing. Making sure I get what I need and having the opportunity to get better and not have any re-injuries to my recovery. Going to Athletico, the trainers at IU send me stuff that I can give to my Athletico people and just implement that stuff and keep progressing as if I were still at IU. It’s going really well. The workouts are just as hard. Getting the same stuff in. Maybe it’s a little different there than it is here. Some of the technology and recovery medallions that IU offers Athletico doesn’t have all those obviously but I can’t complain. I’m getting hard work in and progressing and I’m feeling better every day.

Q: What do you think is your best asset or selling point during this time compared to how it would be normally?
STEPANIAK: That’s tough. I just think that the surrounding people I have around me, whether that’s IU people, Athletico, my agent my buddies, former IU players that are in the league now. All of them giving me advice throughout this whole thing. Obviously, you can’t really plan or prepare for this. I’m just sticking to what I know and finding ways to get what I need done. Staying on track with recovery. I’m taking and pulling from all those resources and just continue to progress. I’m blessed to be in the position that I am, and I hope that all other IU players just continue to get their opportunity and just show what IU football is all about.

Q: Based on how your recovery is going with the ACL timeline, are you expecting to be 100% by July or August?
STEPANIAK: Yes sir. That’s been a promising thing. I’m keeping on track. Everything is going at an accelerated pace. I’m going to ready for camp and beyond, whatever club I’m at. That’s something I’m stressing to all of the teams and their doctors. So, it’s good news that I’ll be ready to by that time, that’s. crunch time.

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