‘Canada’s finest’ Clint Ratkovich, Cole Tucker return to help Rocky Lombardi at NIU pro day

Former Huskies, CFL players catch passes to help out

Former Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi throws a pass as former NIU running back Clint Ratkovich looks on Thursday, March 7, 2024, during pro day in the Chessick Practice Center at NIU. Ratkovich was helping out as former NIU players got a chance to show their stuff in front of NFL scouts who attended Thursday.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University’s pro day was decidedly short on targets for quarterback Rocky Lombardi to throw to when it came time to show off his abilities in drills.

So he reached out to a couple of former Huskies and current Canadian Football League players Clint Ratkovich and Cole Tucker to step in.

“I needed bodies to throw to, and we really didn’t have any,” Lombardi said. “So I reached out to Clint and Cole, Canada’s finest, so I was really happy they could make it back.”

Ratkovich and Tucker returned to the Chessick Practice Center on Thursday for the team’s pro day, which featured six former Huskies working out in front of scouts. That doesn’t include Ratkovcich, a fullback who is set to play for Saskatchewan, and Tucker, a DeKalb grad and wide receiver who is entering his second season with Calgary.

NIU Pro Day 2024 Measurables

Cornerback Gabriel Amegatcher, defensive lineman James Ester, linebackers DaRon Gilbert and Tyler Jackson and offensive lineman Nolan Potter also ran for the NFL scouts present at the event. Scouts from at least 12 NFL teams, including the Bears, Packers and Lions were spotted at the event.

Ester said he felt confident in showing off how effectively he can change direction. With the draft not taking place until April 25, Ester said he’s glad he can change his focus from speed drills back to football drills.

“Really, I’m ready to not be training to be Usain Bolt,” said Ester, who measured at 6 feet, 2.5 inches and 289 pounds. “I’m 300 pounds. So I’m ready to work on football and hitting somebody instead of just running around cones. So that should be cool.”

Ester didn’t run the 40-yard dash Thursday but had a 7.72-second showing in the 3-cone drill. Gilbert posted the fasted time in that drill of the NIU players, finishing in 7.22 seconds.

Jackson participated in linebacker and defensive back drills. He said he just wants the chance to get into the NFL, regardless of the position he’s playing. He did 23 reps on the bench press, second only to Potter’s 25.

“If someone will give me the opportunity and teach me a little something, something, I will. I don’t mind,” he said. “Whatever will get me on the field, I’ll do it.”

After various speed drills, position-specific drills began. Lombardi spent about 10 minutes throwing routes to various receivers, including Tucker and Ratkovich. He completed one of his three deep attempts that flew at least 60 yards in the air and came close to hitting the netting at the top of the Chessick.

“This is the first time he’s thrown to me since we’ve played together,” Ratkovich said. “It’s right where we left off. We didn’t miss a beat. It was awesome to be out there again.”

Ratkovich said he’s been spending time in Kansas with his fiancee, Emilee Dechant, and her family. He’s heading to Canada in May to begin practicing with the Roughriders. When Lombardi reached out, he said he didn’t hesitate.

Neither did Tucker.

“He needed some wide receivers to throw to, so I figured why not come back and help out a friend,” Tucker said. “I just tried to make him look good.”

There were no receivers or running backs among the NIU players, and it showed in the times. Lombardi’s 4.7 in the 40 was the second-fastest time behind Amegatcher’s 4.65. His 35-inch vertical was the highest, and his 9-10 broad jump was second behind Amegatcher’s 10-4. He posted a 7.25 in the 3-cone drill.

“He looked fantastic, he ran great,” Tucker said. “I think he did a great job. He definitely turned some eyes today.”

Lombardi said he’s not sure what the next month and a half will bring in terms of advancing his career in the NFL. He said he’s just focused on improving every day.

“This is the time period where nobody really knows what’s going on,” Lombardi said. “For me, it’s just about training, trying to get better and at the end of the day making a 53-man roster.”

Jackson said he was grateful for the chance to be able to pursue the goal of playing in the NFL.

“It was an amazing opportunity to just be in front of the scout’s face,” Jackson said. “Everything didn’t have to be the exact numbers you wanted, but just to come out here and ball and do the drills and look fluid. I felt really good today, so just for the opportunity I’m really thankful.”

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