INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Marcus Spann was making his appointed rounds Monday, hopscotching between Anderson and Muncie in his DirecTV van. There were TV installation orders to fill.
“Back to the grind,” Spann said, smiling. “Driving around in my little minivan.”
“It’s something I enjoy, but not as much as football.”
Therein lies the delicate balancing act for Spann.
On one hand, there are bills to pay, personal responsibilities to deal with. Spann, 25 and living in Anderson, is in a relationship with Tara Akers; they met while attending Anderson University.
But football tugs. Hard.
Over the weekend, Spann was among approximately 500 pro wannabes who converged on the Indianapolis Colts’ indoor practice facility for the NFL Regional Combine. It was a forum for draft-eligible individuals who had not been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February to go through position-specific drills that were videotaped and made available to all 32 teams.
So many undoubtedly were pursuing the impossible dream.
A handful, though, have a legitimate shot at securing a spot on an NFL roster when training camps open this summer. The next step in the evaluation process is the NFL Super Regional April 12 in Detroit’s Ford Field. Approximately 240 of the most intriguing prospects from the 10 regionals earn invitations. Last year, roughly 0.3 percent of the players trying out made an NFL opening-day roster.
“This is something I truly believe in my heart I’ve always been destined to be, an NFL player,” said Spann, a productive running back at Hamilton Southeastern High School and Anderson University.
“I won’t ever stop. If it doesn’t work out this year, you’ll see me here again next year,” he told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/1kpKLZK ).
To describe the scene scattered across the Colts’ practice field Saturday and Sunday as a smorgasbord of football prospects doesn’t do it justice.
Players came in all shapes and sizes, each armed with varying degrees of confidence. But a few actually excused themselves early when they realized they had invested their $250 admission fee on a venture they were ill-equipped to handle.
“You’ve got to admire these guys. They’re putting it all out there,” Kevin Rogers, the Colts’ associate director of pro personnel, said as he watched Saturday morning’s workout.
The 10 regional combines, he added, “are another piece to the process. It’s another rock to look under.”
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has gleaned talent from the Canadian Football League (linebacker Jerrell Freeman) and South Africa rugby fields (Daniel Adongo).
“We’ll scout the Yukon or the Amazon if there’s a player to be found,” Grigson told The Star in a text message. “We scout the player and don’t discriminate (against) the school, league or particular venue he’s originating from.”
The Colts had their eye on Josh McNary when he was a pass-rushing linebacker at Army in 2010 but he had a two-year military commitment upon graduation.
McNary reappeared on the Colts’ radar while participating in a regional combine last year in Dallas.
“Lo and behold he performs well,” Rogers said.
McNary was signed as a free agent, went through training camp with the Colts and opened the season on the practice squad. He eventually was added to the active roster and contributed 16 tackles and three quarterback pressures in five games. In the two playoff games, he added six tackles.
In each of the past two years, four players who came through regional combines were drafted. Last season, 10 were on an opening-day roster.
“You never know where a guy is going to show up,” Rogers said.
The usual collegiate affiliations were represented at the local combine: Stanford, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Baylor. There were players from Indiana, Purdue, Ball State, Indiana State, Butler, Marian, Indianapolis.
And there were players whose affiliations required a quick trip to Google. Haskell Indian Nations University. Bacone College. Big Sandy Community and Technical College. Friends University. Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary school. There were a couple of Ivy Tech variations.
Like everyone else, Chris DeHart showed up in Indianapolis to pursue the dream of getting noticed by someone.
“I never want to be one of those guys who says, ‘Shoulda, woulda, coulda,’ ” said the fullback prospect out of Texas. “That guy never goes to the arena.
“Not following your dream is like committing spiritual suicide.”
Give DeHart props for moxie. He’s married and the father of three. He’s also 37.
“What happened was that little whisper finally got in my head January of last year: ‘Hey, let’s give this a try,’ ” DeHart said. “I don’t believe this is a gimmick.
“I wake up, eat and breathe my training, the lifestyle. I wouldn’t put my family through this if I didn’t truly believe (the NFL) was worth pursuing.”
DeHart played high school football in Mount Vernon, Texas - “Home of Dandy Don Meredith,” he said with a grin - and added three years of semi-pro football to his resume before focusing on his family.
He showed up at the Colts complex eager to display his talents as a 260-pound fullback.
“I’m the type of guy who wants to get in there and basically pummel,” DeHart said. “My lower body strength is incredible. I’m a bulldozer.”
Akers entered her relationship with Spann with her eyes wide open.
“When I first met him in Anderson, I knew that (the NFL) was his dream,” she said. “A lot of guys have that dream, but what’s different with Marcus is he actually has the natural talent to do that.
“I believe in his dream, too. I’m definitely on-board with it.”
Spann was a star running back at Hamilton Southeastern. As a junior in 2005, he rushed 14 times for 108 yards in the Royals’ 55-20 loss to Warren Central in the 5A state title game.
Spann drifted a bit after graduation. There was interest from some Football Bowl Subdivision schools, but he didn’t qualify academically. He briefly attended a junior college in Glen Ellyn, Ill., then was arrested in 2008 after allegedly breaking into a car in Hamilton County. He said the theft charges eventually were dropped.
“I take the responsibility,” Spann said, adding he found himself running with the wrong crowd. “I learned my lesson and grew into the man I am today.
“Just trying to work hard and achieve my goals.”
He rekindled his football career with a three-year stint at Anderson. His 97.3 yards per game is a school record. His 2,237 rushing yards rank No. 6 in school history.
Now Spann has set his sights on the highest level, which delivered him and so many others to the Colts’ practice facility last weekend.
In terms of the so-called measurables, the 6-foot, 213-pound Spann isn’t out of his league. His broad jump of 11-feet, 3-inches would have been the best at the NFL Scouting Combine in February by any player at any position. He ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash, modest for a running back, but his 35½-inch vertical jump would have been tied for No. 13.
“He’s definitely not wasting his time,” insisted Akers. “He’s pursuing his dreams.
“A lot of people give up on those dreams. I’ve never seen him give up.”
Spann paused briefly on the practice field after his workout. An enormous Lombardi Trophy banner commemorating the Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl championship served as a backdrop.
This, he insisted, is where he belongs.
“All it’s ever been about is getting my foot in the door,” Spann said. “I promise you if they ever let me get on an NFL field like I am now, if I can get into a camp, I will not let them down.”
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com
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