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Panthers prepare for NFL Draft amid the pandemic

Panthers prepare for NFL Draft amid the pandemic

Less than two months ago, professional football teams were checking out James Morgan and Stantley Oliver-Thomas III at the NFL Combine. Much in the world has changed since, but the NFL scouting process continues on.

April 17, 2020 at 12:00pm

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the postponement or cancellation of nearly every major sporting event in the United States—except for the NFL Draft. This annual three-day event, where NFL franchises add eligible college players to their teams, is set to occur virtually on April 23-25.

For the university’s NFL-hopefuls, this day is enormous. Former FIU players find out not only if they are getting drafted, but where to, and also, generally, what their salaries will be, because players taken in earlier rounds are usually rewarded with more money. 

More than 20 former seniors at FIU are looking for a chance in the NFL. In the months before the draft, they would typically be working out for teams or flexing their skills at “Pro Day," where football scouts travel to Riccardo Silva Stadium to see all of FIU's athletes at once. But social distancing has changed all that.

“It’s pretty crazy. Unfortunately, everything I had planned... to visit teams and have them work me out is cancelled. So it’s Facetime or Zoom,” said former FIU quarterback James Morgan, who is one credit away from earning his master’s in public administration from the university.

Morgan’s name is buzzing in the NFL. Over the last few months, he has been interviewed by all 32 teams at least once.

“I think there’s two ways of looking at [today's situation]. You have a lot of downtime now, obviously. Are you either going to relax and take it easy? Or are you going to try to stay in shape and find ways to continue the progress you have going?” Morgan said.

Morgan has adapted by running, doing bodyweight exercises and taking his footwork drills to the street. One of his routines transitioned to the new normal without a hitch: his daily exercise of practicing his throwing motion in the mirror.

“You maybe don’t get to throw as much because you have limited receiver availability, but you still practice the reps in your head, which I think is just as important,” Morgan said. 

Mental preparedness is always valuable in football, but now, it’s a quality that teams have more time to focus on. Former FIU defensive back Stantley-Thomas Oliver III says that his interviews are full of tests.

“It’s drawing up a defensive coverage, and knowing the assignments of all the players on the field. Do you know your assignment? Do you know your coverage? Do you know your basic roles?” said Thomas-Oliver III, who is finishing his bachelor’s in criminal justice this semester.

Teams try to learn as much as they can about athletes before drafting them. Morgan and Thomas-Oliver III have received some interesting questions from coaches.

“Somebody asked if I had to drink, what would be my drink of choice? Like alcoholic beverage?” Morgan said. “I just said, like, beer, Coors Lite... I don’t know what to say that’s wrong to that.”

Thomas-Oliver III said: “There was a question that was, ‘If we draft you, and then were to cut you, what would be the reason why?’ You have to be honest and confident. It was one of those, ‘Wow,’ questions that you have to sit and think about.”

Throughout next week, FIU players will find out how far their interviews and preparations got them. The NFL Draft has seven rounds stretched across three days. If a player is not selected, they can still be signed to a team as an unrestricted free agent.

The moment is here. It may not look the same as usual, but FIU's players press on.

“Since I was 10, I’ve been wanting to play in the NFL," Thomas-Oliver III said.