Former Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens turned enough heads at Senior Bowl practice in January that he went from a player projected as a fringe draft pick to one rising rapidly up mock draft boards.
Yet an invite to the NFL Draft Combine proved to be elusive.
“So I had to bring the Combine to me,” he said..
Aikens and several other Liberty players worked out in front of 20-plus scouts Tuesday at the school’s pro timing day, going through all of the usual drills — the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, 225-pound bench press and cone drills. Joining Aikens were former LU running back Aldreakis Allen, who missed nearly all of his senior season with a leg injury; defensive tackles Francis Bah, Jibrille Fewell and Cory Freeman; long snapper Richard Wright; cornerback Kevin Fogg; and punter Grant Bowden.
Former LU quarterback Brian Hudson, who transferred to Campbell prior to last year, returned to take part in the Flames’ pro day, as did former Liberty receiver Pat Kelly, who couldn’t participate in pro day last year due to a hamstring injury and wanted to give football one last shot.
But the unquestioned star of the day was Aikens, who has heard from agents Chris Turnage and Scott Casterline that he could go as high as the second round in April’s draft and as late as the fifth or sixth round.
Aikens and his agents are confident he’ll be drafted somewhere, which would make him the first Liberty player drafted since Rashad Jennings went to Jacksonville in the seventh round of the 2009 draft.
Aikens’ participation in both the Medal of Honor Bowl and the Senior Bowl gave him an opportunity to show his skills to scouts against higher-level players than he saw on a consistent basis in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The chatter surrounding Aikens became more pronounced at the Senior Bowl. Every practice was televised by the NFL Network. Scouts raved about his physicality at cornerback, his quickness, his ability to read and jump routes. And by the end, he was regarded as one of the small-school prospects who could be a draft-day sleeper.
“I didn’t feel like my name was loud enough,” Aikens said. “I had to turn some more heads. I had to make sure everybody at the Senior Bowl knew who I was. I went out there with the mindset that I’ve got to eat. I’m hungry. I’ve got to perform. Right now, it’s all about marketing yourself. I wanted to make sure the coaches knew who I was before the Senior Bowl was over.”
Aikens ran 40 times of 4.37 and 4.39 seconds Tuesday at Liberty’s indoor track, and he posted 13 reps in the 225-round bench press. Aikens said there’s some question on whether he would be a cornerback or safety in the NFL. He hasn’t played the latter since his freshman year at Illinois, before he transferred to LU.
“I feel like that was fast enough,” he said of his 40 time.
While Aikens has gotten much of the buzz during the offseason, Fewell has had to create his own buzz, turning to social media to try to spread the word that he is a potential NFL player.
Fewell earned an invite to the College All-Star Bowl, a small-scale postseason game played at Furman University.
He spent much of January Tweeting highlight videos and interviews on the advice of his agent.
“I didn’t have the hype, being on posters, and stuff like that,” Fewell said. “But when the tape comes on, they see me. They see what type of player I am. What really set me apart was my film. They turn on the film, and they can be the judge of it.”
Fewell, who ran a 4.85 40 and completed 24 reps of the 225-pound bench press, said scouts like his first quick step and his active style on the defensive front. They also told him he could be in better condition and that he needed to worry about varying his moves, and adding more moves to his arsenal.
Fewell, like many of the other players, benefitted from the attention Aikens drew on Tuesday. Aikens said the whole process has been more stressful than he thought it would be. He was going to head back to Texas to train further but has several private workouts with teams scheduled, keeping him in Lynchburg through March 24.
“I’ve got to perform,” Aikens said. “This is my job interview. You have no time to be nervous. You’ve got to go out and do what you’ve trained to do. We’ve trained for this for months. That was just the rehearsal. I’ve done so much repetition that it’s real natural. I don’t get nervous any more.”