Mountaineers impress on Pro Day in front of 26 NFL teams

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Senior linebacker D’Marco Jackson performs in positional drills in front of 26 NFL teams during App State’s Pro Day March 31, 2022.

Cameron Burnett, Associate Sports Editor

In Sofield Family Indoor Practice Facility March 31, with the eyes of 26 NFL teams in attendance, 13 Mountaineers took the field for App State Pro Day workouts. The building was filled with encouragement from current and former football players as the 13 participants took the next step into reaching the NFL.

The list of offensive participants was wide receivers Thomas Hennigan, Malik Willams and Jalen Virgil; along with offensive lineman Baer Hunter. Defensive linemen Demetrius Taylor and Caleb Spurlin, linebacker D’Marco Jackson, and defensive backs Madison Cone, Kaiden Smith and Shaun Jolly all participated as well. Kicker Chandler Staton and punter Xavier Subotsch performed at Kidd Brewer Stadium after the indoor workouts.

LB D’Marco Jackson

Coming into the day, all scouts in attendance seemed to have eyes on linebacker D’Marco Jackson. The Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year competed in the 2022 NFL Combine and went through positional drills in Boone while clocking in with a 4.29-second shuttle and 7.19-second 3-cone. Listed as the No. 133 prospect by PFF, Jackson’s stock continues to rise as the draft approaches.

I feel pretty ready and pretty confident in myself and my abilities,” Jackson said. “I still have the type of mentality to keep your head down and go to work and not getting caught up in the stats, not getting caught up in the media or all that different type of stuff. Just do what you’ve got to do.”

WR Jalen Virgil

When Virgil began his workouts, chatter within the building was evident. Whispers of “here we go” were aplenty when the former App State track star took the field.

A member of The Athletic’s “Freaks List,” the 6-foot-1 receiver didn’t disappoint. Virgil ran a blistering 4.37-second 40-yard dash while adding a 36.5-inch vertical jump, 10’10” broad jump and 19 reps on the bench press. In the receiver drills, Virgil ripped down a deep ball in full extension, showing more than just the measurables. The throw came from quarterback Chase Brice, who supported the guys with a familiar arm on a stressful day.

“I’ve always been pretty strong, so I wanted to showcase I’m strong in the weight room, and I’m fast on the field, just show them I’m a complete athlete,” Virgil said. “I’m so glad Chase was able to come out there and pass for us. That was awesome to have one more opportunity to catch for him.”

WRs Thomas Hennigan and Malik Williams

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Super senior receiver Thomas Hennigan catches a ball during App State’s Pro Day March 31, 2022. (Courtesy of Andy McLean, App State Athletics)

Fellow receivers Williams and Hennigan performed alongside Virgil. Williams ran a 4.56-second 40 while Hennigan clocked in at 4.7 seconds. Both had solid shuttle times, Hennigan with 4.28 seconds and Williams ran with 4.19. Hennigan’s numbers don’t pop off the page, but the five-year receiver knew that coming in.

“I’m confident in my abilities when I go out there because I know I’m not going to be outworked, and while things may not go our way or go my way especially, I know I’m never going to stop working and definitely not quitting,” Hennigan said. “That’s just kind of been my DNA, and that’s what I told the guys. If you give me a chance to be on your football team, I’m going to be a guy that’s very hard to let go.”

FB/DL Caleb Spurlin

A surprise of the day was Spurlin, who made a name for himself as a pass-catcher in 2021. Known as a defensive end, Spurlin caught four touchdowns in goalline sets. Undersized at 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, he performed as a fullback in front of scouts, making a transition for the pro level. Spurlin ran the full route tree and caught all but one pass, which was a difficult ball thrown behind his head.

“Throw me anywhere on the field and make it happen. I really just reverted to that, didn’t overthink it too much and look athletic,” Spurlin said. “I didn’t want there to be a gray area in what was expected of me in the route. I wanted to be able to show them I’m coachable and can take what they say and apply it on the field.”

OL Baer Hunter and DL Demetrius Taylor

Hunter and Taylor were the two strongest athletes working out, and they showed it in the bench press. Taylor finished with 27 reps while Hunter pumped 25 reps. On the field, Taylor was unable to finish the 3-cone, slipping during his few attempts. Taylor had a 5.02-second 40-yard dash, and he’ll need to prove himself in potential private workouts to impress NFL teams.

S Kaiden Smith

Smith’s story in 2021-22 was one of a comeback. In April 2021, Smith tore his Achilles tendon but was back starting for the Mountaineers in less than six months. His miraculous return earned him All-Sun Belt Second Team honors, and Pro Day was another representation of his triumph.

Super senior defensive back Kaiden Smith runs around cones during App State’s Pro Day March 31, 2022. (Courtesy of Andy McLean, App State Athletics)

“It hasn’t even been a year since I tore my Achilles. I remember last April, I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m not even going to have a chance of playing next season,’ so I try to just be as present as I can. I worked with Dr. Cooper a lot, and he was teaching me to be as present as I can,” Smith said. 

Smith ran a 4.69-second 40, alongside a 7.2 3-cone and 4.18 shuttle. In the drills, Smith was focused on making himself look similar to Cone and Jolly in the drills because he’s a larger player at safety. There were a few balls he said he wished he had back, but the workout was a success, Smith said.

“Even your name being in these coaches’ mouths and them thinking of you as a player they can potentially pick up. It’s something you dream about since you’ve been a kid,” Smith said.

CBs Shaun Jolly and Madison Cone

The two corners working out, Cone and Jolly came in both under 5-foot-9. Undersized at the NFL level, they needed to show their ability as playmakers and leapers. Jolly had a 36.5-inch vertical while Cone didn’t perform in the measurement. In the 40-yard dash, Jolly ran a 4.50-second time while Cone ran a 4.62.

K Chandler Staton and P Xavier Subotsch

With the indoor workouts complete, eyes turned to Staton and Subotsch outside on the field. Subotsch worked on directional punts, working against the Boone wind. Most of his kicks were focused on flipping field position from his goal line, which he did with kicks to the other 40-yard line on average.

Staton had a massive day kicking field goals directly against the wind. Missing just a single kick during the early portion of his workout, Staton started to back up and test his power with scouts wanting more after each kick. After drilling kicks from 53 and 56 yards, Staton was ready to end his workout. 

“Once I hit the 56 from left hash, I was going to call it there. Building up, I had a pretty good day,” Staton said. “everything felt right, and I was going to end it right there, and then one of the coaches asked if I had any more in the tank.”

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Staton stepped up under pressure with the 60-yard big kick before coming a few yards short from 63 yards. During his workout, all eyes were on him instead of the collective workouts inside. Even under that pressure, it wasn’t the most he was feeling during the week because Staton was preparing to get married that weekend.

“Coming up on the most stressful week of my entire life, getting married and having Pro Day within three days, so yeah, turned out pretty well, exactly how I wanted it to,” Staton said. 

Final Thoughts

Wide receiver Corey Sutton had 13 reps on the bench press but was on the sidelines during the workouts. A First Team All-Sun Belt receiver in 2021, Sutton has garnered attention from the Vikings with his 6-foot-3, NFL-ready frame.

With Pro Day in the books, all 13 players can receive calls from NFL teams regarding private workouts and interviews to increase their stock before the 2022 NFL Draft kicks off April 28.