Brandon Hitner took a unique path to becoming a professional prospect in the game of football. The Villanova offensive line prospect only started in high school his senior year, and he was vastly undersized to play O-line in the rugged Colonial Athletic Association — one of the most competitive leagues in the FCS ranks.
He needed to go to work, and he did, and now he has put himself in position to be a day three NFL Draft pick or high priority free agent. One way or another, his specific pro football destination will be known this weekend — but his overall fate is certain, he has already earned the chance to make an NFL roster.[divider]
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"This process is crazy, and I can tell you that I'm just ready to get back out there and play football," Hitner told HERO Sports this week, just days before the draft begins. "It is a whirlwind of emotions I'd say. I'm a very humble person, and all the way through this process, it has been one day at a time. I'm not looking past rookie minicamp in May. I want to prove I belong."
Hitner and his agent have chosen not to go public with too many details about the teams they've met with, which is an understandable pre-draft method that many employ to keep the cards close to the vest. The lineman said he's had a handful of "Top 30" visits, which teams have to host what they see — or hope others see — as their Top 30 targets. Hitner also said he's had plenty of private workouts and a lot of phone calls with O-line coaches. Some team-specific details have been made public coming from other sources.
The Texans, Chargers, Bears, Bengals, 49ers and Saints are just some of the teams that have been involved with Hitner, one way or another, according to reports.
Villanova has had several players drafted in recent years, like 2017 second-rounder Tanoh Kpassagnon and seventh-rounder Brad Seaton, who Hitner was a backup to early in his Wildcats' career. This year, fellow O-lineman Ethan Greenidge was invited to the NFL Combine, and DB Rob Rolle is highly regarded and could be a late-round pickup on Saturday.
Villanova has talent, and Hitner fits the description.
He arrived on campus in 2014 and promptly redshirted, standing 6-foot-6, but only 240 pounds. There was work to be done and he didn't have a whole lot of high school tape to prove what he became. In 2015 he didn't play a whole lot, but in 2016 he began to receive reps in key situations.
In his career, Villanova has faced off against Temple twice (and beat the Owls), Pittsburgh, UConn and Syracuse. The chances have been there to prove you're an elite college football player, and Hitner put in that work in the weight room and when it came to nutrition.
He now stands 6-foot-6, 305 pounds and impressed during his on-campus pro day. He's a guy who has proven he can play tackle or guard, which makes you more valuable when an NFL team only has 53 active roster spots and they need depth up front, while his Pro Day vertical jump and broad jump marks would have been Top 5 at the NFL Combine among offensive linemen and his 3-cone technique run would have been in the Top 10.
Explosion is a word that comes to mind with Hitner.
But let's get away from the meat market stuff, which Hitner has proven he has on his side as an athletic lineman. The NFL is also getting a cerebral lineman who has attended a strong academic institution. He's going to be able to handle the intricacies of scheme and playbook at a position that demands nothing less.
It's been quite the journey, but one he has handled well.
"It's such a weird dynamic, a huge vetting process I'd say," Hitner said. "They ask about everything in your life. I have nothing to hide, but they vet everything and rightfully so. You talk to everybody on staff, from the GM to the equipment manager. They try to get a vibe about who you are as a person. It's a whirlwind of things going on, the whole process and the poker game."
"Never in a million years when I was younger would I have thought I'd meet some of the people I have met. I've met head coaches who've been in the league for a while, seeing teams' locker rooms and the players' names above them. I grew up watching these guys. In the end, the people I've met have been just normal guys."
And in a few weeks, he'll be one of them.
BRANDON HITNER'S DRAFT PROJECTIONS
|DraftScout.com||5th to 7th round|
|Dane Brugler/The Athletic||6th round|
Here are the links to the FCS Combine performance charts, position by position (how the NFL Combine breaks it down):
Safeties | Cornerbacks |
OLB/DE | Defensive Tackles
ILBs | Offensive Linemen
Running Backs | Quarterbacks
Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | ALL Positions
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