EAST LANSING – A total of ten former Michigan State football players showcased their skills in front of multiple NFL scouts Wednesday afternoon.
Scott Aligo, MSU's director of player personnel, understands how vital pro days are for college athletes, having worked for the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs before arriving in East Lansing.
"It's vital for them ... that's why today we want to make it their day and really kind of bring those guys back and try to make it as combine-like as possible without having to be at the combine," Aligo said. "Everything that we structured today was to make them feel like they were in Indianapolis. It's very important, and we took a lot of pride in really showing off Michigan State and being able to show them what our players can do."
The 2019 squad missed out on their pro day due to COVID-19, which is precisely why Aligo and MSU head coach Mel Tucker wanted nothing more than to extend an invitation to those former Spartans this year.
"When I got to text them back this year and say, 'Hey, you could do it again,' it's been really cool to kind of see; give them this opportunity because they've earned it, in my opinion," said Aligo. "They've given a lot to Michigan State; it's the least we can do to be able to give them that opportunity to do that. It's fulfilling to me."
Along with other players around the country, the pandemic stripped Brian Lewerke of an opportunity to impress scouts at pro day.
After being cut by the New England Patriots, the chance to participate in various drills and workouts in front of NFL teams meant everything to the signal-caller.
"We got a text from Scott about a month and a half ago just asking that if anyone wanted to come back, that didn't get to do their pro day last year, they can come do it," Lewerke told reporters in a videoconference. "I definitely hopped on that as soon as I could."
The Arizona native was joined by nine former teammates, including Josh Butler, David Dowell, Matt Seybert, Tyriq Thompson, Tyler Higby, Ryan Armour, and three 2021 prospects in Shakur Brown, Antjuan Simmons, and Naquan Jones.
Simmons led Michigan State for the second year in a row with 75 stops overall, featuring double-digit tackles in six out of seven contests. Unlike Brown and Jones, the hard-hitting linebacker didn't receive an NFL Combine Invite, but he plans to use his work ethic and football IQ to the best of his abilities.
"I'm a hard-working guy, positive attitude, leader, show up and do everything right, do whatever is needed to better the team, whatever it takes, I'm going to get the job done, and you're getting a heck of a football player," said Simmons. "I'm giving 110 In practice, I'm giving 110 on game days; that's just the type of guy I am."
Brown earned All-America honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation and Pro Football Focus.
He also garnered second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and the Associated Press. The 5-foot-11 defensive back helped anchor the Spartan defense and finished tied for third in the FBS with five interceptions.
Yet he credits his success to former MSU corners in Justin Layne and Josiah Scott.
"Those guys paved the way for me," Brown said on Wednesday. "Especially Josiah, he's my old roommate; we used to talk a lot, he'd help me with the plays. Justin was like my big brother when I came on campus, so he helped me a lot through the path too."
Before making his first career start last season, Jones played behind and alongside Kenny Willekes, Mike Panasiuk, and Raequan Williams. He sought one of them out ahead of his big day.
"I leaned on Kenny (Willekes) very heavily, and he just told me to stay to process even if you don't run the best time events," said Jones. "It's basically your ability, and you do what you can do; just leave here with no regrets, and that's exactly what I did today."
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