Small-school players ready for biggest test at NFL combine

In this Dec. 19, 2015, file photo, Marian wide receiver Krishawn Hogan (80) runs following a reception during the first half of the NAIA championship football game against Southern Oregon in Daytona Beach, Fla. Connor Harris and Krishawn Hogan started this year by explaining where they played college football. This week, they'll be on the same stage as the guys they watched on Saturday nights. Harris, a linebacker from Division II Lindenwood, and Hogan, a receiver from NAIA Marian Univeristy, are two small-school prospects who will have a chance to prove themselves at this week's annual NFL scouting combine (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr., File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Connor Harris and Krishawn Hogan are ready to answer questions at this week’s NFL scouting combine.

Sure, they can recite impressive small-school resumes to anyone who wonders how two relatively unknown players made it to the league’s second-biggest offseason stage.

They can show coaches, scouts and general managers that they can perform in person the same way they did on tape. They’re even ready for another round of where’s that school, should anyone ask.

Harris, college football’s career tackles leader, played at Division II Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, near St. Louis. Hogan won an NAIA national championship at Marian University in Indianapolis.

Now comes the hard part — proving they’re worthy of being drafted in April.

“You’ve got to go in and show you can compete at a high level,” Harris said. “You want to perform the best you can, and I want to leave with no regrets.”

Harris, a linebacker, and Hogan, a receiver, know this is neither the time nor the place to become awe struck.

Here, it’s easy to lose focus amid the seemingly endless poking and prodding of medical checks, early morning wakeup calls, long nights of interviews, critical psychological tests and the pressure of performing on cue.

Anyone who’s been through it knows how grueling it is for the roughly 330 invitees.

But for small-school guys, the atmosphere can become daunting if they let it.

“When I first got there, you did wonder (if you belonged), I think that’s a natural thing,” Hogan said, referring to his experience in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. “But once you put the pads on, it’s not like that. You go 100 mph or you look bad.”

Harris had a similar experience at the Senior Bowl, where he played and practiced in front of bigger crowds than he had in college.

Those all-star games have given both players a confidence boost that is only rivaled by their supporting cast.

Harris and his wife moved to Indy in January so he could train full time with about a dozen other NFL prospects at St. Vincent Sports Performance’s NFL training program.

Hogan also trains there and has been balancing workouts with fatherhood and sleepless nights after his first child, Krishawn Jr., was born Feb. 18.

“He came a couple of weeks early, but it’s been a great few days,” Hogan said.

Both are intriguing prospects.

Harris lacks prototypical NFL size, at 5-foot-11, 242 pounds, but possesses strong productivity.

He finished with 633 tackles, more than any player who has played college football. He ran for seven touchdowns in 2014 and 2015, averaging 6.6 yards on 50 carries, and punted 19 times in college with a 38.8-yard average while pinning six inside the 20.

The former high school quarterback-fullback-safety also returned a punt and a kickoff at Lindenwood, and last year he was clocked at 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

“That’s what they’ve told me, the more you can do the better opportunity you have,” Harris said.

Hogan has a similar story.

After leaving Division II Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, and returning to his hometown, he matured into a star.

At 6-3, 224 pounds, Hogan has reportedly run a sub-4.4 in the 40. Those are the kinds of numbers scouts crave.

He has the stats, too. Hogan finished his career with 263 receptions, 4,395 yards and 42 touchdown catches and 25 TD runs. During Marian’s 2015 title-winning season, he had 101 catches for 1,824 yards and 31 total touchdowns — 16 through the air, 15 on the ground.

It was good enough to get the attention of the NFL’s decision-makers.

What they must do now is prove one more time that they can compete with the big boys of college football.

“It’s a jump, but it’s always a jump,” said Buddy Baker, an Indy-based agent who represents Harris and Hogan. “I always explain to players, teams or the media if you compete in the Big Ten or the SEC, you’re still making a jump. Not as big a jump, but still a jump. So it’s a projection. The jump they’re making is just a couple of steps more.”

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