Draft Diary: What really happens at the combine (Day 1)

South Florida WR Carlton Mitchell provides an inside look at the NFL combine. (AP Photo / Chris O'Meara)

Draft Diary: In this series, South Florida WR Carlton Mitchell will give us an insider’s look at the draft process. This week, he goes into great detail about what it was like to participate in the NFL scouting combine. His recap will be split up into four separate posts throughout the course of the week. For our initial entry about Mitchell, click here.

Carlton Mitchell’s alarm sounded at 3:45 a.m.

It was time.

The previous seven weeks had been his own personal training camp. Like many other prospects, Mitchell spent day and night preparing for the NFL scouting combine. Interviews, footwork, receiving drills, the 40-yard dash. Those were the things that were part of his training routine in North Miami. All in an effort to ready himself for the NFL’s job fair - over 300 prospects being tested, questioned and analyzed, as they continued their journey to football’s biggest stage.

“It was something I have always looked forward to,” Mitchell said. “Even the medical part, the poking and prodding, the interviews. I just wanted to have a good time with it.”

At the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Mitchell ran into some familiar faces: Ole Miss receiver Shay Hodge, West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown, Ohio’s Taylor Price. All on the same flight - headed to Indy.

On the plane, Mitchell tried to sleep, but that was difficult. At 6-3, 215, the man needs his space. So it didn’t help that he got stuck in a middle seat with little room to maneuver.

Plus, there was the excitement of the next few days.

“I tried to go to sleep, but I was too excited,” Mitchell said. “My body was tired, but my heart was racing. I couldn’t relax. I was just picturing in my head how everything was going to go.”

Finally, after a connection in Atlanta, Mitchell arrived at the airport in Indianapolis. He was greeted at the bottom of an escalator by a man calling out names, asking the prospects where they’re from, giving them instructions on where to get on the shuttle to the hotel.

After picking up his room keys and filling out some paperwork, Mitchell was given bags filled with Under Armour gear. Two warm-ups, three different shirts, a couple pairs of socks, skullies, hoodies, the works. Prospects were required to wear Under Armour gear throughout the workouts, so the company made sure each guy had plenty of apparel.

He dropped off his gear and met his roommate, Brandon James, from Florida before heading over to the hospital for medical testing.

When he arrived, several stations were set up. First, a heart test. Then a urine sample. Nothing major.

The third station, though, was a blood test. And not the kind the average person generally has.

“They take like six tubes of blood,” Mitchell said, adding that he was so intrigued he shot video of the testing with his phone. “I asked them ‘What do you do if someone passes out?’ I had donated blood in high school, but this was different.”

When the medical testing was done, it was nearly 4 p.m. - more than 12 hours after his day had started.

And Mitchell was hungry.

The combine provides meals for the prospects, but Mitchell wanted to continue with his personal nutritional routine, especially with the physical portion of the testing still to come. He met with his trainer, downed four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a banana and half a gallon of water.

Even though Mitchell had already experienced what amounted to a full day’s worth of activities, the combine was really just beginning.

At orientation, the leader of Mitchell’s group talked to the players about competing - something he took seriously, as Mitchell set a goal of participating in every single test that was offered.

After a visit to the Under Armour suite, a room at the hotel which housed more gear in different sizes for the players to choose from, it was interview time.

On the first night of the combine, there are two different kinds of interviews.

The first takes place in a large room. Think job fair, or open house. All 32 teams are represented by coaches, personnel guys, assistants, scouts, etc. A horn sounds every 5-10 minutes. And when it does, the interview is over, and the teams move on to the next prospect.

After meeting with various teams, 8 p.m. rolled around. And that meant it was time for the second kind of interview. This one took place privately, in a hotel suite, with a specific team.

Mitchell made sure he got to the suite early. He declined to mention the specific team, but when Mitchell walked in, there was a giant logo hanging up. About six men greeted him - three coaches, a GM, some members of the personnel staff.

“I was very prepared for this moment,” he said. “But until you experience it, you don’t know what it’s going to be like, so I was very nervous at first. I’m a people person, though, so I sat down and was ready for all their questions.”

Tell me about your family.

Have you ever been arrested?

Were you suspended for conduct reasons?

Why should we draft you?

What makes you special?

Those were the questions that followed. Mitchell provided answers. And after about 15 minutes, he was sent on his way with a backpack of gear from the team.

It was on to the next interview. This time, when Mitchell walked in, he was greeted by the bright light of a video camera. Notes weren’t enough. This team wanted the interview documented.

After similar questions, a coach turned on a TV. There was Mitchell on the screen. Last year’s game against Syracuse. A play where he caught a 33-yard touchdown pass. Mitchell was asked about every player’s assignment on the play. What would he have done if the defense were set up differently? If they were playing a different coverage?

Mitchell, who considers himself a student of the game, had answers. These were football questions. No problem.

After meeting with about 10 more teams in the “job fair” room, the first day was nearly over. Mitchell, who had been up for over 19 hours, met with his trainer one more time and grabbed a bite to eat.

There was no running, jumping or strength tests. Mitchell never even had a football in his hands.

The first day of the combine was about testing prospects’ health, and their personality.

Mitchell felt he passed with flying colors. But this was only Day 1. The next part would begin less than six hours later.

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