Southern Utah defense has trio of draft candidates

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(STATS) - Miles Killebrew basically needed to take a deep breath after his pro day as he digested the offseason training, Senior Bowl, NFL Combine and what has been a whirlwind of a year.

"This whole experience has been surreal," the strong safety from Southern Utah said. "Whenever there's a time when I'm feeling sluggish, like I'm running out of energy, I just have to slap myself and I look around, and I'm like, 'Wow, I am living the dream right now. This is my dream come true.'"

The feeling is shared by two other players who joined Killebrew on the Thunderbirds' defense - defensive end James Cowser and cornerback LeShaun Sims - who also could be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Imagine if all three players from the Big Sky Conference champions were to reunite on the same NFL team ... now that would be surreal.

"We joke about it. It would be cool, I'd love it, it would be way fun," Cowser said. "But I think for all of us, we're just trying to get a shot everywhere."

Killebrew could be a second-day selection (second and third rounds), while Cowser and Sims are targeted for the later rounds on the final day of the seven-round draft, to be held April 28-30 in Chicago.

It isn't common for an FCS program to boast three draft selections in the same year. It last occurred in 2011 when Appalachian State strong safety Mark Legree (Seattle Seahawks), center Daniel Kilgore (San Francisco 49ers) and inside linebacker D.J. Smith (Green Bay Packers) were taken within 30 picks of each other during the fifth and sixth rounds.

To be that stocked with NFL-level talent was particularly unusual for Southern Utah, which until March 30 had never previously hosted a pro day.

"We have like over 130 starts between each other," Cowser said. "We've been doing this for four years, we've been running hills in the summer. And the crazy thing is I don't think very many people see the work that we put in behind the scenes. As it gets to this point, it's just cool and gratifying to see hard work really pays off for all of us."

Killebrew, at 6-foot-2, 219 pounds, is considered one of the harder hitters in the draft, a tackle machine as a senior (132 stops) who has the size to convert to a hybrid outside linebacker's role. He showcased his skills at the Senior Bowl.

Cowser, 6-3, 248, holds the FCS career records for sacks (43.5) and tackles for loss (80). Having shown the ability to move in space, he also is being considered as an outside linebacker by NFL teams which utilize a 3-4 scheme.

Sims, 6 foot, 203, is a press man-to-man corner who has good size for the position and uses it to play a physical style. Like Cowser, he played in the East-West Shrine Game.

Although the three trained separately during the draft buildup before coming back together for their pro day, Sims said, "We talked back and forth about what everybody's doing at their facilities and pick stuff out and use it."

The trio has talked about having appreciation for their NFL opportunity. Killebrew joked that his favorite team is the next one that signs him.

But they'll always look back to their Thunderbirds roots.

"I always joke we're like birds of a feather - me, James and LeShaun," Killebrew said. "Everything we do is so similar that it's kind of incredible."