(STATS) - Coming from the FCS weighed on Montana's Tyrone Holmes leading into the East-West Shrine Game last month.
NFL players whom he knows told Holmes not to make a big deal over the difference between former FCS and FBS players as they try to fulfill their pro dreams.
"But I guess I still had those mental blocks up," the defensive end said.
During the week of the Shrine Game, Holmes started to believe the advice was right. He felt he had a good performance during the practices and the game, and that it didn't matter how his collegiate career was played in the lower half of Division I.
FBS prospects are generally regarded with a higher perception than FCS prospects because they faced stronger competition on a regular basis.
It's why FCS players, and those on lower levels of college football, feel they have to continually prove themselves as they head toward potential NFL careers.
Even Holmes, the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year, felt that extra burden, which explains why he put a large chip on his shoulder as a motivating tool.
But between the end of the season and the draft - when postseason all-star games, the NFL Combine and school pro days take place - many players come to realize their talent will be valued if it is worthy for the next level.
"It's no different, it's all just playing football, at the end of the day," said Illinois State running back Marshaun Coprich, who will participate in the NFL Combine in two weeks. "People can say it's different, but I feel it's all the same, as long as you know how to play the game and you know your own fundamentals. Some people have an edge on others, but as long as you know what you're doing, you'll be fine."
The way North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz is being regarded as the first FCS player to be selected in the first round of the draft since 2008, is likely helping other small-school players get a longer look. Wentz is being projected in the top 10 overall on many draft boards, and another FCS player, Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, is being viewed as a potential first-round selection as well.
Both players were standouts during Senior Bowl week.
"You wouldn't be in these games if you didn't belong," said Northern Iowa cornerback Deiondre' Hall, who also made his mark in the Senior Bowl and is part of a strong FCS contingent of defensive back candidates.
Holmes led the FCS with 18 sacks and had 21 tackles for loss in his All-America senior season. At Shrine Game week, his abilities to get off the line of scrimmage, stay low and drive up into blockers and bend the edge were evident. The athletic 6-foot-4, 250-pounder made three tackles in the game.
Holmes is now preparing for Montana's pro day on March 21. The Grizzlies program is one of the strongest in the FCS for sending players to the NFL, including nine this past season.
"If you work hard, you can be successful," Holmes said. "I guess playing at a smaller school, we don't really see what the level of competition is like elsewhere, so we kind of build it up to more than it is. Everyone is just like us and it's not that much of a difference, I guess. The only thing that's different is guys of high caliber. It's still football, it's not too much different.
"If you look at NFL rosters, there's dudes starting from D-II and FCS all over the place, so I guess it's not really a thing. It's in people's minds that aren't in that work.
"So it was good for me to get out there and prove it to myself."