Of all the performances that drew attention at Notre Dame’s annual Pro Day, none were more eye-opening than Jarrett Grace‘s. The fifth-year senior linebacker, two-plus years removed from a leg injury that should’ve ended his football career, might have tested his way into a dream job.
Not by acing any interviews or showcasing the mental fortitude that allowed him to work his way back from the painstaking odyssey. Not by showcasing a trim and fit frame that’s 25-pounds lighter than the one that made nine tackles against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
But rather, Grace likely punched his ticket to an NFL training camp by running, jumping, lifting and moving like a legit NFL linebacker.
Grace’s Pro Day performance in front of 31 teams looked like that of a prototype inside linebacker. Standing nearly a half-inch taller than 6’3, he’s got the height team’s covet. At 240 pounds, he looked the part of an Underwear Olympics standout. And Grace’s explosiveness in short distances—shuttle and cone drill times that essentially matched guys like Amir Carlisle and Chris Brown—show a linebacker who is more than just a great story.
After the workout, Grace talked to reporters about the progress he’s made. And as you might expect, he doesn’t think this is the end of the road.
“To see where I’m at today, I’m definitely very pleased,” Grace said, according to the South Bend Tribune’s Mike Vorel. “I’m not done, though. I’ll tell you that. I’m not done. I think the best is in front of me.”
That Grace managed to put himself in a position to impress the NFL is a testament not just to the work he did to get back on the football field in 2015, but the time spent since the Fiesta Bowl. Taking a 17-credit load in Notre Dame’s MBA program is no joke. Doing that while training to ace performance-specific drills that most NFL prospects drop out of school to focus on? Very impressive.
In an interesting breakdown on Grace’s eventful Thursday, UND.com’s John Heisler detailed not just Grace’s job audition, but the road to get there. And this quote from Notre Dame strength coach Jake Flint crystalizes the Cincinnati native’s tenacity.
“He came to me as soon as the bowl game ended and said, ‘Can you help? I want to train and get a shot,’” Flint said. “We talked about a training program and he’s got his schedule with school and it needed to be a little flexible.
“So sometimes he came in and trained with our team and then sprinkled in some other things specifically for his Pro Day. But he’s a self-motivated kid. We built the goals and he executed it. What we did was less about football and more about some of these specific drills. He’s leaned up, and he’s done a great job.
“He was going to do whatever he needed to do. He did a lot of this by himself. We had a lot of good talks. I just tried to keep positive with him.
“He’s gonna go out there and he’s going to look good. We’ve seen what he can do and he’s going to get a shot and that’s all he wants. He’s here every day, and he’s positive and he has energy. He wants to give it one more go and see what he can do. He knows how to play and we all know that.”
Grace might not ever be the linebacker he was on track to be before that ugly injury against Arizona State. But the hard work he put in from that day forward—and the chance opportunity to play big minutes in the Fiesta Bowl after Jaylon Smith’s injury—opened the door.
Thanks to an impressive Thursday in front of 31 NFL teams, Grace’s chance of chasing his dream just got a lot better.