The weather was simply awful Tuesday for Old Dominion's football Pro Day. With temperatures in the low 40s, steady winds gusting off the Elizabeth River made pouring sheets of rain feel like pin pricks.
"It's miserable," wide receiver Marquel Thomas said with a smile after running the 40-yard dash.
Yet, offensive lineman D.J. Morrell seemed undaunted. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder was, as expected, the center of attention as 14 NFL scouts put 15 players from ODU, Norfolk State, Hampton University and St. Augustine's through nearly three hours of strength, agility and speed testing.
"D.J. looks like he's in great shape," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said.
That's despite the fact that Morrell did something unusual after signing with NFL agents Justin and Joel Turner following the season. The Turner brothers, based in Myrtle Beach, S.C., usually require players they sign to move to Atlanta and train in the Chip Smith Performance facility.
The Turners pay for expenses while players train, and the facility is renowned for grooming athletes.
And they have groomed quite a few NFL players. Justin, a former player at Alabama, and Joel, a former Clemson assistant coach, say they have negotiated 195 NFL contracts worth nearly $230 million since 1998.
But they made an exception for Morrell and allowed him to train the last three months in his hometown of Norwalk, Conn. Morrell's brother, Brian, who went through heart transplant surgery in 2007, was paralyzed in a car accident in November 2012. His mother, Elizabeth, is single and his sister, Tracey, is in high school.
"With everything going on at home, I felt like I needed to be there with my family," Morrell said.
"That spoke to his character," Justin Turner said.
Morrell is considered the best pro prospect ODU has produced in its five seasons of football. He was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in California, where he was interviewed by 18 teams.
During ODU's 35-24 loss at Pittsburgh, he held his own against defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who won the Outland and Nagurski trophies, holding him to two tackles and no sacks.
Yet, he was not invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
The Turner brothers, who were at ODU to watch Morrell's workout, said he will nonetheless be drafted.
"I think he'll be drafted in part because of his brute size," Justin Turner said.
"But he's got more going for him than that," Joel added. "He's intelligent, has character and a tremendous work ethic."
The Turners found him a workout facility just outside Norwalk called Blue Streak. Morrell has been working out four hours each day.
"Teams have told me that I'm in their draft discussions," Morrell said. "Whether I am or not, I don't really think about that. I just try to keep my mind on training, on getting better. If it happens, it happens."
After putting all 15 players - including Norfolk State's Marcus Center and Rolandan Finch - through standard timing and agility tests, Morrell and ODU offensive lineman Jack Lowney were the only players asked to do individual drills for the NFL scouts.
Placekicker Jarod Brown, who kicked a 54-yard field goal when ODU played at Pitt - a Heinz Field record - kicked briefly for scouts.
Xavier Warren, an NFL agent from Washington, D.C., represents Lowney and Brown. He said they both will get a shot at NFL training camps. Lowney can play three positions on the offensive line and worked out well on Tuesday, Warren said.
"A lot of teams are giving him a look because he's got a great physique and he can play three positions," Warren said.
He counseled Brown not to worry about his performance. He sent a videotape he made of Brown consistently making 50-yard field goals to dozens of scouts and NFL position coaches.
"Somebody will see what he can do and give him a shot," Warren said.
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