Former Maryland football players Ty Johnson and Tre Watson showed up to Maryland's pro day March 27 ready to prove everyone wrong.
"Right before we walked into the building I was like, 'It's time to show them what we got today,'" Johnson said. "We were on the same page from the get-go."
Neither Johnson, a senior running back with blistering speed who finished with more than 2,600 career rushing yards, nor Watson, a linebacker who led the Big Ten in interceptions after transferring from Illinois in 2018, received an invitation to this year's NFL Scouting Combine.
That snub galvanized both players throughout the winter and placed even greater importance on the pro day workout, which drew representatives from 29 NFL teams.
"Everything adds to the fire," said Watson, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and led the Terps with 114 tackles in 2018. "... Ty and I are very similar in a lot of ways. We carried that chip from everything that happened into the [East-West Shrine Game] and not getting an invite to the combine and the Senior Bowl. Those things were just carried forward."
Defensive lineman Derwin Gray, one of three Terps who did attend the combine, worked out with Watson regularly during the offseason and saw the work ethic that drives him.
"I saw him work every day and I saw ... the frustration on his mind when he didn't get that combine invite," Gray said. "I told him to continue to keep working, he's going to show out here."
Johnson and Watson did just that in front of a group of more than 40 personnel from professional teams.
When Johnson crossed the finish line on the first of two attempts in the 40-yard dash, an audible murmur echoed inside the cavernous indoor practice facility in College Park, Md. Johnson said he didn't know his exact times and scouts wouldn't tell him what he ran, but he said he has been clocked at 4.33 seconds while training in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The fastest running back at the combine was Oklahoma State's Justice Hill at 4.40 seconds.
"I was watching the combine in my hotel room down in Florida I was just tapping my foot," Johnson said. "I know there's some guys I know personally that ran and they ran well but some of these guys I was like, 'Come on, man.' But I came in here ready to run."
On the bench press, Johnson ripped off 27 reps of 225 pounds, which would have tied him for second among running backs at the combine.
Watson said he wasn't surprised by Johnson's workout.
"He's always been a freak, from the day I came in," Watson said. "He's an explosive athlete. I wish he could give me a little tenth of that 40 [time], and he would have been all right and he would have helped me a lot too. It's all good though. I'll let him have it."
Watson, meantime, ran in the range of 4.73 seconds, meeting a goal he had set this offseason.
Watson said his pitch to scouts at pro day, including a chat with a New York Giants linebacker coach during drills, was that he's a "complete football player."
"I have to show that even though I'm not the freak athlete that a lot of guys want to look at these days, I'm someone who can play the game of football really well," Watson said. "And all the things that I did in the testing and the drills translates into my film."
Watson pointed to his strong tackling ability as more reason teams should consider selecting him.
"Guys don't get through me 99 percent of the time if you ask me," he said. "That's just something I've always prided myself on from the moment I started playing football. I'm going to hit you, I'm going to hit you hard and you're not going to get by me."
As for Johnson, he is just eager to show that not only does he possess rare speed, he can also return kicks and play special teams. He had four special teams tackles in his career and helped lead a 102-yard touchdown return by Will Likely in 2015.
"I think all that's going to help," Johnson said of his special teams versatility. "No one ever really talks about [how] I was a starting right guard on punt coverage. ... I do a little bit of everything."
With the NFL Draft quickly approaching, and their best chance to show scouts their on-field abilities now in the rearview, it's all about controlling what you can and forgetting the perceived slights, Johnson said.
"Just work, that's all you can do," he said. "You can't be so hurt about it that you take your eyes off the prize. It's just one of those things where, OK that's what happened, take it, move forward. Just got to keep working. That's really all it is."
Photo Credit: Brooks DuBose/PressBox