ASHLAND, Ore. – NAIA schools often get overlooked by NFL scouts so in the case of Southern Oregon head coach Craig Howard, that means fighting for attention.
“When you have good players and they have success on the field,” Howard says, “my obligation as a coach is to spread the word, and I get on the phone and call every team in the NFL trying to get scouts to come.”
That persistence paid off. On Thursday, a scout for the San Diego Chargers came to Ashland to get a closer look at four players: quarterback Austin Dodge, wide receivers Dylan Young and Ryan Retzlaff and offensive lineman Drew Gibson.
“I woke up this morning, and I texted Dodge immediately,” Young said. “I’m like, ‘Man, I’m nervous and excited. I don’t really know what I’m feeling right now.”
The scout watched practice, checked out game film and gave the four players the well-known Wonderlic test, 50 questions in 12 minutes testing general math and verbal knowledge.
“My guys are pretty smart,” Howard said. “I don’t even know how to spell Wonderlic.”
“It’s a lot like an IQ test,” Gibson said. “A lot of things were matching words together. This word and this word, do they have opposite or similar meanings? Then some math problems, which were probably the hardest.”
“It was pretty difficult because the last two, three years I’ve only been studying health and PE,” Young said. “I scored pretty well. He said it was about a B- so I’ll take the B- on it.
“Dodge got one point better than I did on the test,” Gibson said. “We got them back. That was the thing that upset me a little bit.”
“Oh, I did,” Dodge said. “I squeaked by. It was all the practice tests the night before though.”
This isn’t the first time a Raider flirted with the NFL under Howard. Last year Cole McKenzie got some attention close to Draft Day and wound up signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in camp before getting cut, but McKenzie didn’t get noticed until late. These guys are getting on the radar before their senior year begins.
“That’s a lot better than it was the last time we did it because we had to fight and scrap and claw to find an NFL team to give Cole a chance,” Howard said.
“Having Cole last year and being able to learn from him and what he had to go through,” Dodge said, “everything he had to do at the combines and stuff. It was nice to be able to learn from someone else’s experience, especially coming from a smaller college.”
It will be an uphill battle for any one of these guys to get drafted by an NFL team let alone all four, but for now someone’s taking notice, and that’s pretty special.
“Hey, someone is actually looking at me and I can have a shot,” Retzlaff said. “Coming to SOU, I just wanted to play football and now I can probably make something out of it. It all depends on how hard you work.”
“A couple of the guys have ambitions of playing in the NFL,” Young said. “I’m one of them. So for me it was just really exciting, and I was thrilled. I couldn’t be any more happy about it.”