The athletes filed out of Kenan Stadium’s south tunnel and onto the field, where cones and stopwatches awaited them.
A year ago at this same event — North Carolina football's pro timing day — around 75 scouts made their way to Chapel Hill. SportsCenter and NFL Network did as well. They came for Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017 by the Bears, and the five other Tar Heels who were eventually drafted that year.
The crowd was smaller on Tuesday morning: about 20 scouts, along with some family members and teammates. But the motive of all of UNC’s participants — seniors and graduate transfers alike — was the same. It always is.
“All eyes on you,” defensive back M.J. Stewart said. “But you’ve just got to take a deep breath and remember that you’ve been training for this. So I was ready.”
Of all the participants, Stewart and linebacker Andre Smith drew the most attention. They were the only two UNC players to receive invites to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, and both entered Pro Day with different goals.
Stewart, who ran a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, didn’t run the 40 on Tuesday. He went through shuttle and three-cone drills, as well as some positional workouts to showcase the versatility and sideline-to-sideline movement that he feels are some of his best qualities.
“I feel like I’m going to fit in wherever a team needs me,” said Stewart, who played four years at UNC. “I’m a versatile player who can fit in at nickel, corner, safety if need be.”
The 6-foot Stewart left North Carolina as the school’s all-time leader in pass breakups with 41, and also logged 199 career tackles and six career interceptions. Pro Football Focus gave him a season grade of 87.9, the best on the team.
Stewart said he doesn’t look at mock drafts, but feels confident that he’s established himself as one of the best corners in the nation. He spoke with a Ravens scout on Tuesday, and said he has two workouts and three visits scheduled. NFL.com projects him as a second or third-round pick.
Smith, Stewart’s defensive teammate, is coming off a left meniscus injury that limited him to the first two games of the 2017 season. He decided to enter the draft instead of risking another injury, and left behind two years of eligibility to do so.
"Since I was 4 years old, I've been playing organized ball,” he said. “I knew then I wanted to play in the league. That was outright my goal, outright my dream.”
The 6-foot, 240-pound linebacker pulled his hamstring during his 40-yard dash at the combine and finished at 4.63 seconds. That was short of his goal of 4.5, so he ran the 40 again at Pro Day — but only once, not twice like everyone else, with his hamstring still in mind. Although the time wasn’t yet official, he’d been told it was somewhere between 4.55 and 4.7.
Like Stewart, Smith does not seek out mock drafts to read. But when his dad and brother send them to him, he joked that he doesn’t have much of a choice. Drafts have projected Smith as being selected somewhere from the fourth to seventh round. So far, Smith has scheduled workouts with the Ravens and Giants.
“As long as I get my foot in the door, I'm grateful,” he said.
Stewart would be the first UNC defensive back drafted since Tre Boston in 2014; Smith would be the first UNC linebacker since Zach Brown in 2012. Both have hired agents, and after their final performance in Kenan Stadium, both are ready to take the next step in their respective football careers.
“It’s hard,” Stewart said. “You’re so excited to see where you land; you don’t know where to go. You’ve just got to sit back and wait.”
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