By John Riker
INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL Scouting Combine gives draft hopefuls the chance to showcase their speed, power and smarts in front of NFL teams and fans. Traditional powers Alabama and Georgia were well-represented, along with smaller schools sending their best to the pro level. Medill Reports made the trip to Indy last month to track down Northwestern’s soon-to-be “Pro Cats.”
INTRO: NORTHWESTERN FOOTBALL WON JUST A SINGLE GAME IN THE 2022 SEASON, BUT THE WILDCATS COULD MAKE HISTORY IN A GOOD WAY IN A MATTER OF WEEKS. LED BY OFFENSIVE TACKLE PETER SKORONSKI AND DEFENSIVE LINEMAN ADETOMIWA ADEBAWORE, FOUR NU PLAYERS COMPETED AT THE NFL SCOUTING COMBINE IN INDIANAPOLIS THIS WEEK. IF ALL FOUR ARE DRAFTED IN LATE APRIL, THE CATS WOULD HAVE THEIR FIRST FOUR-PERSON DRAFT CLASS SINCE 1985. I FOLLOWED ALONG FROM INDIANAPOLIS AS ALL FOUR TRIED TO MAKE THEIR BEST IMPRESSION ON SCOUTS AND SHAPE THEIR NFL FUTURE.
[SHOT OF INTERVIEW STAGES]
ADETOMIWA ADEBAWORE: Northwestern allowed me to grow and blossom into the leader I was. It got me out of my comfort zone.
BRANDON JOSEPH: The Wildcat program made me exactly who I am. Notre Dame was able to finish off everything, but Northwestern, that’s my blood and where I played the majority of my career.
PETER SKORONSKI: It’s great to represent Northwestern because they’ve done so much for me.
EVAN HULL: The more I’m able to do on the field, the better it can help me out. It’s something I’ve taken a lot of pride in, starting at Northwestern to now.
FOR A PROGRAM WITH ONE WIN TO SPEAK OF IN 2022, NORTHWESTERN FOOTBALL HAS BEEN A FREQUENT TOPIC AT THE NFL COMBINE IN INDIANAPOLIS. FOUR MEMBERS FROM LAST YEAR’S TEAM COMPETED IN COMBINE DRILLS, WHILE TWO RECENT TRANSFERS WHO STARTED CAREERS IN EVANSTON ARE ALSO IN THE MIX.
EKU LEOTA: We’ve got a good group of Cats here.
TWO YEARS AGO, ALL SIX MADE THE TRIP TO INDIANAPOLIS FOR THE 2020 BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP. NOW, THEY’RE BACK, WITH NFL CAREERS AND DRAFT SELECTIONS IN THE BALANCE. IT’S BEEN A LOT TO TAKE IN.
SKORONSKI: It’s happened pretty fast, and there’s been a couple moments where I’ve had to say, “Wow, this is really happening. Like, holy crap, I’m living out a dream.”
THE WEEK HAS INCLUDED INTERVIEWS WITH TEAMS, PRESS CONFERENCES, RADIO APPEARANCES AND, OF COURSE, DRILLS.
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN ADETOMIWA ADEBAWORE TOOK THE PODIUM FIRST AND SET THE BAR HIGH. ADEBAWORE IS A KANSAS CITY NATIVE AND HOPES TO BE A FIRST-ROUND PICK IN THE DRAFT, WHICH WILL BE HELD IN KANSAS CITY. HIS DRAFT PLANS ARE LOCKED IN, TOO.
ADEBAWORE: I’m from Kansas City, so no matter what, I will be in Kansas City.
ADEBAWORE USED A STRONG SHOWING AT THE SENIOR BOWL TO BOOST HIS DRAFT STOCK. NOW, HE’S HOPING HIS ATHLETICISM WILL IMPRESS SCOUTS IN INDIANAPOLIS.
ADEBAWORE: I think I’m very athletic. I think you guys are going to see that tomorrow.
[VIDEO OF THE 40-YARD DASH]
DANIEL JEREMIAH: That’s an excellent 10. … That’s 282 pounds running a 4.54, Rich.
ADEBAWORE BECAME THE CENTER OF ATTENTION, ON NFL NETWORK SCREENS AND IN THE STADIUM.
PETER SCHRAGER: Maybe he worked his way into a first-round selection. That’s the beauty of the combine. You come in, you get to meet the teams, then you get to meet your dreams when you go out there and perform like he did.
ADEBAWORE’S TEAMMATES KNEW WHAT WAS COMING ALL ALONG.
SKORONSKI: Seeing guys like Adetomiwa light it up out there, it’s awesome. I’ve always known how special these guys were. It’s cool to see them on the stage and see the football world notice that too.
FELLOW CAPTAIN PETER SKORONSKI IS CONSIDERED A LOCK FOR THE TOP 10. SKORONSKI WAS A UNANIMOUS ALL-AMERICAN SELECTION ON NORTHWESTERN’S OFFENSIVE LINE AND LEFT SCHOOL A YEAR EARLY TO PURSUE HIS NFL DREAMS.
SKORONSKI: I felt it was the right time to sort of maximize my dream of playing football in the NFL. I felt this was the time to do it, and I couldn’t pass this up.
HIS GRANDFATHER, BOB, IS IN THE PACKERS’ HALL OF FAME AND IS SKORONSKI’S FOOTBALL IDOL. PETER SHARED STORIES OF BOB’S INTERACTIONS WITH VINCE LOMBARDI WITH REPORTERS.
SKORONSKI: Lombardi was on them about keeping weight down and stuff like that. He was getting ice cream, and Lombardi walks in the ice cream shop and he saw him, so he hid his cone behind his back so Lombardi wouldn’t see him eating the ice cream and putting on some weight. That’s just one funny story I remember.
SKORONSKI DIDN’T QUITE RECORD THE EYE-CATCHING RESULTS AS HIS TEAMMATE BUT HELD HIS OWN.
IN THE FINAL DRILLS OF THE FINAL DAY, RUNNING BACK EVAN HULL PUT ON A SHOW. HULL AND CORNERBACK CAM MITCHELL BESTED ADEBAWORE’S MARK WITH FOUR 4.7s IN THE 40-YARD DASH. HULL’S HUSTLE ALSO SET HIM APART, TAKING EVERY CARRY AND CATCH TO THE END ZONE.
THAT’S SOMETHING HE LEARNED FROM THE TRIALS OF A 1-11 SEASON.
HULL: After however many losses you’ve had, coming back to fully padded practice the next, you’ve got to bring that same energy and intent and focus and juice that you’ve had since Game 1.
THE FORMER WILDCATS SPOKE AT LENGTH ABOUT THEIR EXCITEMENT FOR THE NEXT LEVEL. BUT DESPITE THE MANY LOSSES OVER THE YEARS, THEY CHERISH THEIR NORTHWESTERN CONNECTIONS. FOR EACH OF THEM, HAVING THEIR FOOTBALL FAMILY THERE MADE CHASING THEIR DREAMS EVEN SWEETER.
ADEBAWORE: It’s absolutely fun, to see some of my teammates be recognized as well and being a part of this process, it’s truly a blessing and fun to see.
SKORONSKI: It would have been great to have a few more wins based off all of the draftees, but all of these guys who are here deserve it and are unbelievable players.
HULL: It’s really cool because we’re all in this process together. We get to share about how our experiences have been, how training has been. It’s almost like being back in the locker room in a sense.
TAG: NEXT UP, NORTHWESTERN WILL HOST ITS PRO DAY ON MARCH 14 IN RYAN FIELDHOUSE, GIVING SCOUTS ANOTHER CHANCE TO SEE WHAT THE WILDCATS CAN DO ON THE FIELD. REPORTING FROM INDIANAPOLIS, JOHN RIKER, MEDILL REPORTS.
John Riker is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter.