Daniel Small’s pursuit of a professional football career has taken a few fortunate turns in recent weeks.
Small, an offensive lineman for Shenandoah University who was named a second-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association following his senior season in December, said on Monday that he was looking for the chance to participate in a pro day last month when he discovered that his high school back home in Georgia lay just within the required 50-mile radius of Kennesaw State University, making him eligible to take part in the pro day there on March 11.
The timing couldn’t have been more favorable. Two days after Small participated in Kennesaw State’s pro day – and performed well, he said – the COVID-19 outbreak had brought most of the nation to a standstill. Small had gotten his chance to perform in front of NFL scouts, an invaluable asset for a Division III player trying to make it big, just in time.
The fact that Small got the opportunity to showcase his talent at Kennesaw State was a stroke of luck in itself. Small, who noted that he’d also received an invitation to attend James Madison University’s pro day on March 19 (which was ultimately canceled), didn’t have any such plans lined up until a week before the pro day at Kennesaw State.
Small had already planned to fly home to Georgia on March 5, he said, because it was the start of Shenandoah’s spring break, but it wasn’t until March 3 or 4 that he’d gotten the green light to take part in the pro day in his home state. Up to that point, Small had been paying for training to prepare him for an opportunity he wasn’t even sure he’d get.
“That was the most mentally draining part: going to class, giving my all in training and paying for this stuff. Most people don’t do that if they don’t have at least something that they get to show it off at,” Small said. “But that’s just me moving by faith and not by sight.”
Small’s rundown of his experience at Kennesaw State’s pro day a month ago suggests he made the most of his opportunity.
Performing in front of what Small said was around 25 NFL scouts and representatives from two Canadian Football League teams, he and the rest of the participants first went through measurements and all of the standard football tests: broad and vertical jumps, bench press and the 40-yard dash.
From there, Small said players endured what he called the “most nerve-wracking” part of the entire pro day when scouts chose only a select few participants to continue to individual position drills based on players' scores and performances in the earlier tests. Small said he was one of only two offensive linemen to advance to that position-group portion of the pro day, alongside another offensive tackle from Division II Valdosta State.
Small, who noted that the entire experience gave him “invaluable” insight into the scouting process and what he needs to continue to improve on, said that he had informal discussions with about 10 teams at the pro day. Of his feedback, the 6-foot-5 Small said he heard good things about his foot and hand speed, was called a “natural bender” – a term used in some scouting circles to describe an athletic lineman who bends at the knees and not the waist – and was told he was a “clean-looking” 312 pounds. He said he was also asked if he’d be willing to shift inside from offensive tackle to guard.
The 2020 NFL Draft, which will be done virtually this year due to restrictions put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, begins on April 23.
Small left Kennesaw State optimistic about his showing.
“There was a good pool of talent, so I feel very confident with what I did there,” said Small, who noted that the Valdosta State lineman had participated in the Hula Bowl, a college all-star game held annually in Hawaii and that there was another Division III lineman in attendance who had competed in the East-West Shrine Bowl. “Now it’s just staying ready. I hate saying the phrase because people think it sounds kind of Hollywood-ish, but I just let my agent handle what he’s supposed to handle and I focus on what I’m doing here. That’s all I can do in the end.”
Last month’s pro day was the only part of Small’s pursuit of a professional football career that has ramped up considerably in recent months.
Small said he competed in the Podyum All-Star Bowl – which includes college football players from all levels – in Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 8, where he spoke with scouts from the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns.
“That was really the moment that kind of fueled the idea, ‘Why not me?’” Small said. “Those kinds of people, they don’t get paid just to talk to people for fun, they would’ve had to see something. I met with them, filled out questionnaires, kind of asked things about pro days and all that good stuff.”
Small was also one of two Shenandoah players, alongside long snapper Carder Yurgaitis, selected to the Dream Bowl, an all-star game made up of FCS, Division II and Division III players held in Salem in mid-January.
Small said his selection to the AFCA All-America team in December was the turning point for what has transpired over the past few months.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know how strong the pro possibilities were until after that because that’s when I had a couple interviews from online scouting places,” said Small, who was interviewed by NFL Draft Diamonds, a website that highlights small-school prospects, last month. “… And then going to the (all-star) games, the scouts see you and it just helps the pitch because they see that you are at a pretty elite level at your division, and then that’s when they want to get an eye on you to see how you measure up. Do you have the intangibles? Do you have the lateral quickness that you need? How is your foot speed? That’s when the pro days and all that stuff really come into play because film doesn’t lie and neither does live eyes.”