EDITOR'S NOTE -- This is the second of a series of articles planned on how various outgoing Ohio State football players are preparing for the upcoming NFL draft. In today's edition, contributor Dan Steinberg examines how Dustin Fox and Mike Nugent prepared for the NFL combine and pro day.
Crunch the numbers yourself: Since 1995, more than 2,500 players have been drafted by the NFL, according to Gil Brandt, NFL draft guru. Sixty-six of those players have come from Ohio State, second only to Tennessee in the past decade. That includes a record 14 Buckeyes chosen in the 2004 NFL draft. And 64 percent of all players invited to the NFL combine since 1993 have been drafted.
But the numbers are meaningless to most current Buckeyes. There's no guarantee that a successful collegiate career translates into becoming an NFL pick. Between Ohio State's final game in the Alamo Bowl and the April 23-24 NFL draft, Buckeyes spent their days playing in all-star games, training, signing lots of autographs, auditioning at the combine and Pro day, and even, going to class.
Mike Nugent boots a kick during a workout at the Woody Hayes center
"I think there's a hierarchy involved in what matters most to NFL scouts," says now-former OSU kicker Mike Nugent. "First, they look at your overall college career. Second is how your senior year was. Third is how you practiced for, and played in, an all-star game. Fourth and fifth is how you did at the combine or Pro day. Finally they look at individual tryouts.
"I think I've got a lot of things going for me but all I can do to determine my own destiny is work to be the best kicker there is. I want to be the first kicker selected. It's out of my control what round that will be but I want to be the first kicker taken this year."
For players Nugent and Dustin Fox, everything pointed to the combine. As soon as their Ohio State football eligibility ended, each was acutely aware of making sure they were in the best condition possible in preparation for their auditions in front of NFL owners, coaches, general managers and scouts.
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Out of the Ordinary: Nugent has more than 60 autograph sessions scheduled in malls throughout central Ohio. Fox has nearly as many. Among the most bizarre things that have occurred at the sessions, Nugent was asked to arm wrestle a young fan so his mother could snap some photos. The fan won. Fox was asked to record a greeting for a fan's cell phone message. He complied.
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Nugent's post-Ohio State career began at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. He took the requisite personality tests, including the infamous New York Giants' 2 ½-hour, 250-question exam. He had numerous interviews with most teams.
Nugent is expected to be the first kicker selected in this year's draft
"It's a good way to get exposure since every scout and head coach is at the Senior Bowl," Nugent says. "The week leading up to the game is more important than the game itself because that's where they find out what kind of person you are. I wanted them to know that I'm not a head case, not superstitious, and my goal is to be the best kicker at whatever level I play."
Nugent spent the week nailing field goals and kickoffs for the scouts. The rest of the time he spent working with his snapper and holder, neither of whom had performed those duties to date. At Ohio State, "Ninety-eight percent of the time the snap and hold were perfect when I kicked," he says. "If the laces aren't facing straight ahead the kick will knuckle left or right," just like a baseball pitcher using the laces to put a wicked spin on the ball.
Nugent went three-for-three in the Senior Bowl and had some good interest from the Chiefs, Bucs and Falcons. Later, the 49ers and Vikings, and still the Bucs, showed the strongest interest in him.
"I love kicking," he says. "I could kick for three hours each day but my leg would get tired."
Indeed, Nugent has to ration his kicking to keep at the top of his game. Three days a week he kicks about 45 field goals. A fourth day he'll hit about 10 field goals and 25 kickoffs.
Nugent went into the combine wanting to impress teams with his mental outlook.
"I want to kick the best but I also want to let the coaches know what I am like mentally," he says. "I'm not like other kickers. I am an athlete as well. I don't leave practice when I'm done, I stick around to help when it's needed. I am a team player, not an outsider."
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Out of the Ordinary: Nugent's parents have seen every one of his collegiate games, home and away, with the exception of one. His parents were unable to see him play in the game at UCLA that immediately followed 9/11.
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Dustin Fox was invited to the East West Shrine Game in San Francisco. He spent the week taking a variety of psychological and sensory tests administered by most teams. Like Nugent, he was most concerned about the week before the game as more than 150 scouts were on hand.
"It was an opportunity for me to show that I can perform at the highest level," Fox says. "At one point, scouts were observing me one-on-one so I could show my footwork, speed, coverage, recovery speed and ability to run with the receivers. I had an interception in one of the big practices in front of the scouts so I felt good about that. The game itself was uneventful."
Fox trained in Columbus for the Combine and pro day, splitting time between Ohio State's facility and Max Sports Center. He spent countless hours each week weight-training and working on his speed.
"Ultimately, I'd like to increase my draft status at the combine," Fox says. "I really want to show NFL teams my athletic ability. I would like to erase any doubts about my size and my strength. As far as interviews go, I think that I can really impress them with my interpersonal communication skills."
Fox signs a ball for a fan
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Out of the Ordinary: Among the questions Fox was asked in the psychological tests administered by NFL teams: Would you rather be a cat or a dog? Also, If you were paid the right amount of money would you join the circus?
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At the combine in Indianapolis, Nugent and Fox spent their first day having x-rays taken and physical exams administered.
"We received our clothes that we had to wear for the week, were told to change, and they immediately took us to the hospital for x-rays," Fox says. "They x-rayed my whole body from head to toe. I had my arm x-rayed about six times because the doctor wanted to have it perfect.
"Then the next day we had physical exams the entire day. You have to meet with doctors from all 32 teams. Following the exam, I had to go back to the hospital and have an MRI taken on my foot because one doctor thought he saw a stress fracture. There was none.
"The best thing that came out of all the exams is that I am not going to die."
Fox has had dozens of requests for autograph signings
Following the physical exams during the day, interviews take place in the evening in rooms throughout the hotel.
"Your group scout gives you what they call a ‘dance card,' " Fox says. "The card has times and room numbers on it. You don't know what team you are interviewing with until you get to the room. The first night I had the opportunity to interview with the Vikings, Colts, Chiefs, Saints and Broncos. Later, I interviewed with the Steelers and Bills."
As for Nugent, he kicked on his third day at the combine. "I went 12 of 15 on field-goal attempts and two of my three misses hit the uprights," he says. "The third miss was left by an inch. They told me the night before we kicked that I really didn't need to do anything spectacular. All in all it was a good weekend of interviews and kicking and everything went well."
Fox had been waiting to work out in front of the scouts, knowing he could impress them once given the chance.
"The day of workouts went great," Fox says. "I began by vertical leaping 43-1/2 inches, which was my personal best. Next, in the second of my two 40s, my times ranged from 4.43 to 4.47 seconds. I was very happy with those times considering the notoriously slow track at the RCA Dome. In the drills, I caught the ball well and was told I ‘looked smooth.'
"By the end of the drills a lot of us were starting to get dehydrated and cramp up. I decided I could finish the shuttles at pro day."
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Out of the Ordinary: With each NFL team sending its own medical staff to the combine, there were nearly as many doctors, trainers and other medical personnel at the combine as there were players.
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Both Fox and Nugent checked-in at Ohio State's pro day to finish a few exercises for the limited scouts on hand. The University of Oklahoma held its Pro day on the same day as Ohio State's so scouts were split between the two universities.
"I hope I'll be a first-day pick," says Fox.
"I still just want to be the first kicker taken," says Nugent.
With the 65th pick in the beginning of the third round in last year's draft, the first kicker, Nate Kaeding of Iowa, was selected. Eighteen cornerbacks were chosen on Day One.
Where Nugent and Fox fall at this point is in the hands of the NFL.
Dan Steinberg has been an instructor and communications director for Ohio State's School of Journalism and Communication for the past five years. In addition to teaching strategic communication courses full-time, he works with students, including student-athletes, to prepare them to meet the media and create strategic plans. He admits to being a Cal Bear and baseball fan at heart.
Fox signs a ball while Simon Fraser gives a wave