DeKALB – Official times weren’t immediately available Wednesday at NIU’s pro day, which featured football players from colleges across Illinois showing their skills in front of scouts from 11 NFL franchises.
So Western Illinois and DeKalb graduate Tony Tate didn’t know his 40-yard dash time. But he said he knew one thing.
“I felt fast. I always feel fast,” said Tate, whose fastest 40 time was listed at 4.46, the speediest of the nine athletes who ran it Wednesday. “I know I’m fast. I’m just waiting to hear those numbers to confirm it.”
Tate was one of 14 athletes from nine schools, including four NIU players – running back Clint Ratkovich, punter Matt Ference, linebacker Lance Deveaux Jr. and receiver Tyrice Richie – taking part Wednesday.
Richie is coming off a foot injury suffered late last season and didn’t compete in many drills, and the number of special teams drills for Ference mostly were limited to the end of practice when he boomed a few kicks.
But Ratkovich and Deveaux put their skills on full display for scouts from the Bears, Green Bay, Detroit, the New York Jets, Miami, Dallas, Carolina, San Francisco, Tennessee, the New York Giants and Cleveland.
“We’ve been training for this basically our whole lives,” Ratkovich said. “Everything we’ve done to this point has led us up to this. Just get out here and let loose. No regrets, put on a show for them, and leave it all up there.”
Ratkovich was a running back/fullback hybrid for the Huskies in his one year with the program after transferring from Western Illinois, specializing in short-yardage situations. He averaged 4.4 yards a carry and ran for 13 touchdowns.
At the pro day Wednesday, his 31 reps on the 225-pound bench press was the most of any of the athletes. He also clocked a 4.64 40.
Ratkovich also competed in the Shrine Bowl and said he’s been hearing good things from scouts both there and Wednesday at NIU’s pro day.
“They said I had a good day,” Ratkovich said. “I felt myself I had a good day. So hearing good things, continuing working from here on out and hopefully get picked up.”
Deveaux came to the program in 2016 and fought through injuries his entire college career. He stayed healthy last year, made 75 tackles and had eight for a loss.
“It’s just a blessing to be here considering how the last couple years went,” Deveaux said. “It took a long time to get here to this day. Overall I had a pretty solid day, and hopefully I put something on display for the scouts.”
Deveaux spent his NIU career at linebacker but played safety in high school. On Wednesday he was doing defensive back drills, something he’s been working on in training since the season ended.
He ran a 4.77 40, a 34-inch vertical jump and nearly hit 10 feet in the broad jump.
“Hopefully I did good enough to show them I can play at either position,” Deveaux said. “I was training linebacker and DB drills, mostly emphasizing DB drills because it’s been a while. I haven’t played it since high school. I was prepared to play both.”
Tate had his first pro day last week at Western Illinois, but rain limited the showcase to basically route running. Here he was able to do all his testing, including a 37.5-inch vertical leap and clearing 10 feet, 2 inches in the broad jump.
Tate was a standout track athlete at DeKalb in addition to his football career with the Barbs.
“Just continue to work and do what I’ve done my whole life – be ready,” Tate said. “I feel like I’ve been ready my whole life, and I’m going to keep working on what I’ve been doing. Just waiting to hear my number called.”
Not only did Tate participate in some route running, he fielded punts from Ference at the end of practice.
And although he has the characteristic speed of a return specialist, the 5-9 receiver thinks he can bring more to the table than just a special teams player.
“When I get my shot, I’m going to prove myself,” Tate said. “I’m a lot more than just a returner. I’m a lot more than just a special teams guy. I can go and make an impact on offense and be an asset on offense as well. Whenever I get my opportunity, I’m going to prove it, and I’m going to show it.”