BEREA: After Brandon Allison’s first crack at college football failed, he devised a plan to earn redemption and ultimately a chance, albeit a slim one, to capture the attention of NFL scouts.
His journey led him to the Browns’ practice facility, where about 110 players — including several from Northeast Ohio — participated in an NFL regional combine Sunday. Allison, a North High School graduate who played linebacker and safety at Malone University, hopes the opportunity will help keep his dream alive.
Unlike the annual NFL Scouting Combine, which will run Wednesday through Feb. 26 in Indianapolis, regional combines don’t feature the top college prospects or produce much buzz. They’re comprised of long shots — players eligible for the draft who weren’t invited to the main combine and others with college or professional experience who want to break into the league or re-enter it.
John Beake, the former general manager of the Denver Broncos and retired NFL vice president of football operations, leads a group of seven talent evaluators that oversees the regional combines and will invite the top performers to work out in front of league scouts and player personnel directors April 7-8 at the NFL Super Regional Combine at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Those who have been chosen to advance from Berea will be notified via email by the end of this week.
“That would be a blessing ‘cause I feel like I’ve been down a long road,” said Allison, who’s been juggling his training with a job at a plastics factory in Canton. “I’m 24, and I’m just now a senior. I’ve been through a lot these last couple of years, so it would really be a great thing.”
Allison started his collegiate football career at Taylor University. However, it didn’t work out.
“I wasn’t ready,” Allison said. “I kind of flunked out.”
Allison transferred to the University of Akron and spent more than a year out of football before receiving a second chance at Malone.
“I figured I’ll go to Malone, freshen up my skills, I can start, build my confidence,” Allison said. “And then since I’m at a small school, if I don’t get a lot of exposure, I’ll take a chance at a regional combine.”
Regional combines aren’t new, but this is only the third year the NFL has run them. The one in Berea is the fourth of 10 scheduled this year leading up to the Super Regional. The Browns’ headquarters was a regional combine venue last year, too.
“It gives kids that get overlooked a great opportunity to get out here and show what they’ve got,” University of Akron quarterback Dalton Williams, 22, said.
It also gives players like former Browns linebacker Beau Bell, 26, and former New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills linebacker Pierre Woods, 31, a chance to flirt with a comeback.
Bell played five games for the Browns in 2008 after they drafted him in the fourth round, but knee injuries contributed to his NFL career being cut short. He went on to play in the United Football League and is now a member of the Spokane Shock of the Arena Football League. Woods, a Cleveland native, played in the NFL for five seasons, his most recent 2010.
“[I’m] just trying to work my way up to the NFL because that’s my dream, that’s where I want to be and I know I could be here,” Bell said. “You’ve got to be mentally, physically and spiritually intact. If one of those things are loose, then you’re falling to the ground. It’s like a tripod.”
Each player paid a $225 fee to participate in Berea.
“I don’t think you can really put a price on it to give you a shot to go up to the next level,” said Bethany College linebacker Kyle Arrington, 22, a Jackson High School graduate.
No Browns scouts attended the event, but one from the Chicago Bears did, said John Aaron, national field director for the regional combines. Official results from the four tests conducted (40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, broad jump and vertical jump) were not made available Sunday, though many prospects left pleased.
“I feel like I deserve to be here,” said running back/wide receiver Larry Dawson, 23, a North graduate who played for UA before transferring to Kent State University. “This is where I should be.”
Longtime NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri is considered the most notable product of a regional combine, but there have been other success stories. About 90 regional combine participants were invited to an NFL training camp last year, and during Week 1 of the regular season, 14 were on a 53-man roster and another 14 were on a practice squad. Three were drafted in 2012: kicker Greg Zuerlein (St. Louis Rams, sixth round); defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (Oakland Raiders, sixth round); and cornerback Jonte Green (Detroit Lions, sixth round).
“It definitely gives you hope you can be discovered from anywhere,” said Edinboro University defensive back Kenny Pettis, 23, a Massillon Washington High School graduate.
Most of the participants, though, won’t receive more opportunities, a reality emphasized by both Aaron and Navy SEALs who attended the event for recruiting purposes.
“[About] 1,600 guys are playing in the pros,” Aaron told the prospects after they worked out. “A million guys are playing high school football. That’s a heck of a lot of deletion. OK? But what you guys got to know is you’re here for a reason. You wanted to give it a shot. You gave it a shot. If the [invitation to the Super Regional] doesn’t come, then you’ve got to start looking for something else. You’ve got to take that same passion you learned from this game and bring it into something else.”
Still, some have legitimate shots to garner interest during the pre-draft process. Akron running back Quentin Hines, 22, posted a time of about 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, University of Central Missouri offensive lineman Logan Freeman, 22, displayed impressive technique during drills and Northern Michigan University defensive end/linebacker Zach Anderson, 23, ran the 40 in about 4.6 seconds.
This is the first year prospects need an invitation to participate in the Super Regional, and Hines is confident he’ll get one.
“Only 1 percent make it,” said Hines, who played at the University of Cincinnati for three years before transferring to Akron. “I want to be that 1 percent, and I won’t settle for anything less. I’m on a mission, and this is definitely a stepping stone.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.