Alabama State is going to have a lot to be proud of in about a week. At least three of its players should be signed by NFL teams in a matter of days.
Offensive lineman Jylan Ware, tight end Brandon Barnes and defensive tackle Roderick Henderson are definitely on the radar screen with NFL teams and have been busy fielding phone calls from scouts. The key word here? Upside, upside, upside.
Make that three key words for three key guys.
Ware is the well-versed 6-foot-7 offensive tackle who runs a near 4.9 in the 40-yard dash and goes 30 inches in the vertical jump. Yep, that will turn some heads. And tight end Barnes? It never hurts a 6-5, 255-pound prospect when he runs in the 4.6s, and Henderson? He's an absolute grinder at defensive tackle. One way or another, all three will be in rookie mini camps in May — continuing a nice tradition at Alabama State. About 25 years ago, it was Brad Baxter, Zefross Moss and Eddie Robinson (not the storied coach, of course) who represented the school in the NFL. More recently, second-round draft pick Tavaris Jackson and Isaiah Crowell come to mind as Hornets who've graced NFL rosters — and this 2017 trio would like to follow in their footsteps.
First, they'll watch this week as the NFL Draft comes. According to NFLDraftScout.com Ware and Barnes are considered possible day three pickups and locks as free agents. Henderson will likely find out his NFL team after the draft ends. It has been nerve wracking.
"I wouldn't say I ignore (the pre draft attention) or embrace it," Ware told HERO Sports. "I know anything could happen and I know that whether I'm drafted or not, I know it's not the end all be all. There are many ways to get to the NFL. I might go higher than the seventh round, it might even be the fourth, fifth or sixth (rounds). But I might be a free agent too. I've heard it all."
Ware and Barnes' stories coming out of high school are similar. Both grew up closer to Auburn than the University of Alabama, so naturally there was thought that maybe fans would scream "War Eagle!" when they played college football. But as time wore on, the SEC's Tigers didn't come calling, and they explored their other options. For Ware, it was South Alabama, UAB, Alabama A&M … and Alabama State. For Barnes, it was a cousinly connection that helped. Justin Mitchell played for the Hornets until 2014, and he went to bat for his slightly younger cousin.
And yes … the not uncommon story in FCS football was true here also: Barnes was a walk-on who made himself a star. How many times have we heard or read this story? Now he's on the verge of being in an NFL camp and possibly being drafted.
"It's been a dream that I've been chasing since I was little," Barnes told HERO Sports. "When I started thinking I could turn this into reality, maybe my sophomore season, after that second season I had a coach tell me that I could play in the NFL. I'd never really even thought about it. It was a dream of mine as a kid, but coming from a small high school, you know. But after he told me that I sat back and thought about it — that I really do have an upside."
Barnes was still growing. He came to Alabama State 6-3, 205. He'll leave 6-5, 255 — with quick feet. Granted, he's a part of a loaded tight end class, but he'll have a home somewhere — a week from today. Barnes also sees a greater possibility of being a key contributor in the NFL than maybe even in college. The pro-style offense definitely leans on a good tight end more than many college offenses these days.
"From a college standpoint, a lot of teams go to hurry up and fast-paced offenses," Barnes said. "It doesn't help the tight end situation … The NFL is more tradition, that old school football from back in the day where the tight end can be more effective. A good tight end can help you wear down another team's defense."
The word is out about the Alabama State trio — now it's time to wait. DB Michael Coe was the last Alabama State player to be drafted, going in the 5th round in 2007. It's been 10 years.
"Me and Brandon and Roderick, we've all had the same conversations," Ware said. "We all heard the same things when we came to Alabama State, that it was a small school. But it has worked out for me. Now in a couple day, I'm hoping to see that so-and-so has picked Jylan Ware on Alabama State go across the board."