They’re putting in the work — Local, regional football players train hard at KDMC for shot at pro football
They are not the chosen ones.
They will not be invited to the National Football League’s draft in April. They will not be offered up-front endorsement deals for sports cars or vitamin water, or any nationality’s yogurt. They are not in Los Angeles or New York, trying on thousand-dollar Ray-Bans and appearing on sports television.
They are in Brookhaven, working.
Seven college graduate football players from smaller schools, under-recognized competitors with much to prove, are in the middle of a three-month NFL training program hosted daily at King’s Daughters Medical Center’s Athletic Performance Center. These seven local and regional athletes are pushing their bodies to the edge, running through NFL workouts with a certified trainer to reach peak physical readiness, all for a one-day chance to show their abilities at their colleges’ pro days this spring.
“I wish it was easy, but everybody has to put in the work and wait until they’re called,” said Brookhaven’s Norlando Veals. “It’s tough, but there’s a process. You have to trust it.”
Veals, a 2013 Ole Brook graduate, is coming off a fine redshirt senior year at Alcorn State University, where he began as a walk-on. As a wide receiver, he caught 49 passes for 901 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017, earning Southwestern Athletic Conference offensive player of the week honors for demolishing Mississippi Valley State with 253 receiving yards and three scores in early November.
He was later named first-team All Southwestern Athletic Conference.
But Alcorn football does not make national news. CBS Sports has 39 ranked wide receiver prospects for this year’s draft. They did not include Veals, so he’s putting in hard, hurtful hours to show them what they are missing.
“I’m trying to learn to be more explosive, to add more boost to my game, to be evasive,” he said. “That’s what those guys are looking for.”
Veals and the others are doing everything the big-name athletes will do at the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Feb. 27. They are running the 40-yard dash, measuring their vertical jumps, running cones and footwork drills. Fridays are recovery day, so they train in the hospital’s big swimming pool and practice yoga. They complain about the Downward-Facing Dog.
They are overseen by Mark Cornwell, a Canadian-born certified strength and conditioning coach and sports performance specialist who lives in Brandon and works for Pro Sports Performance, Powered by KDMC. He drives them relentlessly, rests them with protein shakes and drives them some more.
Cornwell said the goal for pro-day readiness is to get the athletes in professional football’s door however they can — through invites to NFL teams’ camps, as undrafted free agents or to the Canadian Football League. The only way to do that is by shining at pro day with “measurables ” better than the next guy, he said.
“These guys have to work harder,” Cornwell said. “They haven’t had the visibility or the recognition of guys at power five schools. They need to excel to be noticed.”
Joining Veals at the workouts is fellow Brookhaven High graduate Shuntez “Ed” Smith, a wide receiver who played at Southwest Mississippi Community College and the University of Monticello-Arkansas. Jefferson County High School has two graduates in the program — Christian Brown, who played linebacker at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Alcorn, and Nicolas Brown, an Alcorn defensive back. Kavonte Younger, from Bolton, played wide receiver at Clinton High School and Holmes Community College. Tyrone Jacobs is a Louisiana native who played offensive lineman at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
The only established athlete at the KDMC workouts is Jeremy Faulk, a defensive lineman for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns from Palatka, Florida. He originally signed with the New York Jets before being released at roster cuts, and the Browns grabbed him up in early January.
But even a contract-holder like Faulk has something to prove.
He played at Garden City Community College in Kansas before transferring to Baylor University in 2016. He arrived in the middle of the sexual abuse scandal that undid Baylor’s football team — coach Art Briles was fired in May of 2016, and the school ousted Faulk immediately after. He never played a down of football for the Bears.
Whether his dismissal was due to undisclosed hijinks at a previous school — Florida Atlantic — or a Title IX accusation at Baylor, not even the university could say. In a weird, protracted battle over his eligibility to attend the school, he was dismissed, then a panel restored his scholarship, then he was reenrolled but barred from playing football. He left to return to Garden City, and the Title IX investigation was dropped, but Baylor officials threatened to reopen it in the future.
Later, Baylor fired the chairman of the panel that restored Faulk’s scholarship. She sued the university, claiming her dismissal was retaliation for returning Faulk.
In the end, the National Junior College Athletic Association’s defensive player of the year for 2015 attended a pro day in Pittsburg and got into the league as an undrafted free agent, his name in the mud with no proven guilt, or innocence. He’s training at KDMC to make sure nothing slows him down in the fight for his football life.
“For me, it’s a blessing to have this opportunity, to be a part of a team,” Faulk said. “I’m just trying to make my name. You gotta compete for everything you do with this job. Here today, gone tomorrow. I’m going to give it all I got.”
Faulk said the Browns are attempting to reestablish the program, and he wants to be a part of the process. He said his favorite football player is Dwight Freeney, a defensive end for the Detroit Lions who won a Super Bowl with Indianapolis.
“I’m trying to take some of his efforts and put it into my game,” Faulk said.
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