NCAA Division III athletic programs aren’t built on sending players to the next level. Rarely does a “D3” athlete play their respective sport at the professional level, and even more rarely is it a football player.
But every now and then, there is a certain talent at the Division III level that professional teams can’t help but take a look at. North Central offensive lineman Jace Werkheiser has proven to be one of those talents.
On April 5, in front of NFL head coaches such as the 49ers’ Jim Harbough, Werkheiser competed in a pro day at Northwestern University.
“I decided right after the season that I was going to try and keep playing,” says Werkheiser. “I asked my trainers and they told me Northwestern would let me participate.”
The Interactive Media Studies major shared the field with plenty of early round NFL draft prospects.
Also at this pro day was Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, projected by some to be a late first-round pick.
“I was nervous,” explains Werkheiser about competing in front of the scouts and with top prospects. “It was pretty cool getting that kind of experience though.”
In preparation for the pro day, the Freeport native trained with a combine prep outlet called TC Boost, which helped Werkheiser train for all of the drills and exercises he expected to participate in at the pro day.
“They worked me out through every combine drill you can imagine,” says Werkheiser.
While it’s definitely a once in a lifetime experience for a Division III athlete like Werkheiser to show off what he can do in front of NFL scouts and coaches, the opportunities every athlete gets at one of these pro days is not equal for everyone. Coming in a little underweight for an NFL offensive lineman, Werkheiser didn’t get the same amount of field time as some top draft prospects.
“They cut me short in a lot of the drills,” says Werkheiser. “It was kind of disappointing not getting to do all of the things that I trained six weeks to do.”
Werkheiser is coming off a senior season where he was the top member of an offensive line that helped North Central rush for nearly 243 yards per game and protected quarterback Spencer Stanek as he had one of the best passing seasons in school history. Scouts began to notice.
“After the Wheaton game (Nov. 9) I found out there was a scouting report on me,” recalls Werkheiser. “Some projections had me as a possible late round draft pick or a free agent.”
The Freeport High School graduate’s opportunities to play professional football haven’t stopped after the Northwestern pro day. This past Saturday [May 3rd], Werkheiser traveled to the University of Cincinnati to compete in a tryout for the Edmonton Eskimos from the Canadian Football League.
While Werkheiser’s pro day experience didn’t go as well as he anticipated, his experience there gave him a lot to take away from that and into his CFL tryout.
“I think the pro day was a good experience in terms of being around scouts and other players who are going for the same thing,” says Werkheiser. “I think it’s just all about taking a certain level of maturity towards this tryout.