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Gross, other Utes scouted by the NFL

Workouts give idea of players' pro potential

As Jordan Gross left the University of Utah's football practice bubble Monday afternoon, former Ute teammate Garrett Smith called to him.

Thanks for luring so many NFL scouts to Utah's pro day, so they could get a look at me, too, paraphrases what Smith said to Gross, a consensus All-American who is expected to be an early first-round choice, possibly as high as No. 3, in April's NFL Draft.

Smith, like Gross and about 16 other ex-Utes and a player each from Southern Utah and Utah State, had just finished a series of physical tests watched by perhaps a like-number of NFL scouts in the first of two Ute pro days.

The second will be on March 28, and linebacker Sheldon Deckart and receiver Paris Jackson hope to have sore hamstrings feeling better by then. Deckart didn't do drills Monday. Jackson did, but was slow.

Such workouts — which include running, jumping and agility drills, as well as weightlifts — let scouts get upclose looks at top prospects and their draft-eligible college teammates. Pro days are held by many schools: Iowa, Kansas State and Minnesota also had them Monday.

The turnout, said Ute football coach Urban Meyer, was smaller than he'd witnessed in the past at Notre Dame but larger than he'd seen at Bowling Green.

Lending inspiration were ex-Utes/current NFLers Andre Dyson (Tennessee), Cliff Russell (Washington) and Ma'ake Kemoeatu (Baltimore).

Gross, an offensive tackle, safety Antwoine Sanders and defensive tackle Lauvale Sape had four days of such physical testing plus medical and psychological probing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month and are strong draft possibilities.

Other Utes weren't invited to the combine, but Smith shows up on a number of lists presented by national "experts," as does Deckart. Jackson showed well in the Hula and Paradise bowls.

"I did pretty average," said Smith, adding his times and numbers compared favorably with others at his position who went to the combine

Among hopefuls Monday were receivers Josh Lyman, Devin Houston and Quincy Watkins; running back J.R. Peroulis, long snapper Ryan Brand, punter Brian Lewis, defensive backs Cody Weight and D'Shaun Crockett, defensive end Marcus Jones, center Dustin McQuivey and 2000 sixth-round draft choice John Frank, trying to get back into the NFL.

Gross drew the most attention and felt good about his performances Monday and at the combine. He stayed out of all-star games to prepare for the combine and pro days, where it's a "hands-on" chance for scouts to verify what they've heard about him.

Most draft "experts" have Gross going in the top eight or 10, which would break receiver Kevin Dyson's record as the highest Ute draftee. Dyson was a No. 16 pick by Tennessee.

Even the NFL sees Gross high in the draft. He's been invited to attend the actual draft in New York, where he'd get to walk onstage and don the cap of whichever team takes him.

He's not sure if he'll go.

He's traveled to award ceremonies for several All-America teams and as an Outland Trophy finalist (top three). He spent two months training in Phoenix. He'll travel the day after he's drafted to whichever city takes him for interviews and contract talks. Then, he'll have to be back in days for a mini-camp. "You can only travel so much," he said.

Also, "I don't crave the attention," he said about being seen nationally on the draft telecast, though he's enjoying this process of showcasing his abilities.

Despite his lofty national status, he likes still being able to go into stores unrecognized.

Gross, who graduated in December, hasn't moved from the apartment he had as a college student. He hasn't borrowed a nickel against his pending fortune, preferring to wait "until I have the money in my pocket." And then, he won't splurge. "You don't have to wear your money on your sleeve," he said. He's talking with financial planners about keeping what he gets.

First on his wish list is a new bed. Gross and wife Dana are still using "an old broken-down queen-size" that no longer seems big enough for a 6-foot-5, 308-pounder, his diminutive wife and the dog.

Next will be whatever car Dana wants because she's supported them while he played. She wants a moderate sports car, which is fine with him as long as he can fit in the front seat.

Gross, from Fruitland, Idaho, wants a Ford F-350 pickup, but he'll hold off until the couple is settled elsewhere. If it's Houston, the No. 3 pick, which has taken a good look at him recently, the big pickup is appropriate. But if it's New York or some other big Eastern city, Gross may have to change his vehicular plans.

But he'll still be the affable Ute and Idahoan who was an All-America candidate and hot NFL prospect before he made All-Mountain West Conference first team. Those two MWC honorable mentions as a sophomore and junior helped keep him humble, and he plans to stay true to himself.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com