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Past and present UMass football players participate in 2017 Pro Day Thursday

Makoto Yabusaki/Collegian

With temperatures dipping below freezing, Massachusetts football players both past and present took to McGuirk Alumni Stadium for UMass Pro Day Thursday afternoon in hopes of impressing professional scouts.

The scene in Amherst was a lot more subdued than last year’s pro day, where Tennessee Titans wide receiver Tajae Sharpe was trying to solidify his spot in the 2016 NFL Draft and former tight end Jean Sifrin came back for the day’s festivities. The NFL scouts were out in high numbers to see Sharpe, Sifrin and former quarterback Blake Frohnapfel.

Thursday afternoon was a completely different story. Scouts with the New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers in attendance, among others, with the amount of NFL personnel significantly lower than last year’s attendance. That did not deter the effort put in by those trying to show they’re capable of playing at the next level.

Many 2016 Minutemen ran through the 40-yard dash, shuttle drills and others, including former wide receiver Jalen Williams, safety Khary Bailey-Smith, fullback John Robinson-Woodgett and offensive lineman Fabian Hoeller, along with a whole slew of other UMass players and athletes from surrounding schools.

Hoeller was excited for the opportunity to get back on the field and be around many of his classmates in a competitive environment.

“I’ve been working out here in the weight room and on the field all by myself and not with the team,” Hoeller said. “It’s a lot of fun. Many of my teammates are here supporting us so it’s really good.”

“It’s a great opportunity. I’ve been working for this the past 8-10 weeks to completely focus on this, so to actually show what I’ve done in these past 8-10 weeks was really good,” Hoeller added.

For Hoeller, this Pro Day had an added significance. His teammate and fellow offensive lineman Michael Boland passed away in early February and this would have been Boland’s chance to impress NFL scouts as well.

“I know he’s there for me and supporting me from up there. I try to do my best and I think I can make him proud,” Hoeller said.

Another opportunity

Not only did Thursday provide a chance for Minutemen players that just finished up their college careers to shine, but it also gave one of the team’s defensive stalwarts from the past another opportunity in front of NFL scouts.

Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox returned to Amherst in hopes of impressing potential NFL teams. Santos-Knox, who graduated in 2016, finished his UMass career with 338 total tackles and six sacks.

Santos-Knox was excited for the opportunity to get back on the field in Amherst, especially with many of the guys he played with during his time with the Minutemen.

“It always great to get back on the field, participating with a lot of guys I came into UMass with like John Robinson, Khary, Vondell,” Santos-Knox said. “It was a fun time being with my guys that I came in with and doing the Pro Day again.”

Santos-Knox had a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, but was not drafted or signed by the team. Getting another chance to show off his skills to pro scouts was important for the Connecticut native.

“It’s a great opportunity. The good thing about UMass is that we have good players come out, so scouts like to come to McGuirk and see what we have. Being in front of the scouts is always great,” Santos-Knox said.

Although he is now a full season removed from playing for UMass, Santos-Knox believes the future looks very bright for the Minutemen moving forward.

“Every year, we’re getting better and better,” Santos-Knox said. “Being someone who was here the first year we made the leap from D 1-AA and now is night and day different. It really shows the great job that Coach (Whipple) is doing and the rest of the coaching staff.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34

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