March 13, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
But even the most hard-bitten Michigan State fan would have difficulty explaining why the three departing juniors were making the biggest mistake of their lives while watching NFL scouts put them through the paces at MSU's annual Pro Day in the Duffy Daugherty Football Building Wednesday.
Start with the un-flickering 300-watt smiles Bell, Gholston and Sims have in common and displayed most of the time they weren't running, cutting, catching, jumping and lifting. If the NFL Draft is Christmas Day for a worthy college football player, then this was Christmas Eve complete with immeasurable anticipation and giddy excitement.
Then consider the physical attributes they've spent hours turning into re-sculpted calling cards that appeared to be chiseled out of granite since winning the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU.
Finally, put a meter big enough to record such things on the confidence exuded by the threesome.
Sure, Bell, Gholston and Sims could have returned next season to make MSU a favorite to win the Big Ten Championship while being listed as frontrunners for the top national awards given for each of their respective positions: running back, defensive end and tight end.
However, all three have declared that they're ready to go to work in their chosen profession, and isn't that ultimately what a college education - whether it comes in the classroom or on the playing field - is all about?
Nothing drove home the point that a dream Bell has harbored most of his life is about to come true, than when he and Sims dined at a Lansing-area restaurant with Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin the other night.
"This is a crazy story, because my aunt has a video of me, and I don't have any teeth," Bell said. "I was like a snaggle-tooth, and I'm like five or six years old and I'm telling my auntie I want to play in the NFL. I don't know what position I was playing at the time, but I knew I always just loved the game.
"So, I always kept that on my mind and kept that chip on my shoulder, and really just grinded to get to where I am today."
Despite the season-long speculation - overwhelmingly implying the trio's minds were already made up to leave MSU early - Bell said he didn't give his pro prospects serious consideration until bowl week.
"I really starting thinking about, `Man, I don't know if I should leave or what should I do?'" Bell said. "So I started talking to a lot of people and I talked to my mom about it for a long time. I think the deciding factor was that at the end of the day, I just felt like I was ready."
With 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns on 382 carries, Bell is coming off the second-most-productive rushing performance in Spartan history and hopes to be taken in the late first or early second round.
"There's not much more I needed to prove in college," he said. "I carried the load, I caught the ball out of the backfield, I did special teams. So me coming back and getting another 300 hits on my body, I didn't feel like I needed it. It's always been my dream so I decided to take that leap."
With his body trimmed down from the 240-plus pounds he weighed while playing for MSU to 229, which is about what he wants to weigh next season, Bell felt he succeeded at impressing the scouts because he was explosive and powerful on every drill. He didn't see any point in trying to improve on the 40-yard-dash time of 4.60 seconds, which he ran at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
"I just want to show everybody I'm versatile and can do everything from top to finish," Bell said. "I can be in the game on third-and-1, I can be in the game on third-and-10, I can be in the game on first-and-10.
"I'm great in pass-protection and I can consistently get 4 or 5 yards every time I get the ball. I just feel like I'm one of the more complete backs in this draft. There are a lot of guys not my size who can do the things that I can do, and I can do things backs that are 200 or 205 can do, and I'm 230. I just bring a lot of things to the game a lot of backs can't."
Twenty-nine of the 32 NFL teams were represented by 38 scouts.
Gholston's trademark boyish exuberance was in overdrive after his workout. He felt he helped his draft status by running faster and doing "really" well in individual drills.
Gholston said he didn't make up his mind to go pro until after the bowl and professed to have no expectations of where he hopes to be selected in the draft.
"I just hope I go to the NFL, man," he said. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime. I know there's like a million people who would try to trade places with me and I'm just glad I have this chance. I'm really confident with the decision I made.
"It's like living the dream with my eyes wide open."
Sims, who didn't run the 40 on Pro Day, has slimmed down from 280 to 262 and looked good tracking the ball on deep routes. He officially clocked a 4.75 in the 40 at the Combine.
"This was another opportunity for me, so I just took advantage of it," he said. "I re-tested on the bench (press) and got more than at the Combine (from 22 repetitions with 225 pounds to 26) and I showed improvement in all areas.
"It's just going out there and speaking with your body. I'm comfortable doing that. There's no doubt in my mind about my decision. It was pretty tough, man. I just felt like I can do a lot of things in the NFL to help myself out in the future and I just felt it was time to take my talents to the next level."
Sims won't be disappointed, or regret his decision, if he doesn't go high in the draft. He'd just like to end up with a team that has a great tight end who can teach him the ropes.
"First or seventh round, I don't care," Sims said. ¡°I just want to get the opportunity to get out there and compete and play at the highest level. We're being auditioned for everything, so you have to be on top of your stuff and be your self."
Offensive lineman Chris McDonald, defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White, running back Larry Caper, placekicker Dan Conroy, and defensive backs Johnny Adams and Mitchell White also tested for the pros.
McDonald's NFL dream didn't really take shape until his older brother Nick, a former standout at Grand Valley State, made Green Bay's roster as an undrafted free agent in 2010 before going on to play in back-to-back Super Bowls with the Packers and the New England Patriots.
"When I first came to Michigan State, my oldest brother started getting contacted by the NFL," McDonald said. "Once he made it, I think that started getting into my head that I really do have a chance. I love football, so regardless of what happens, I want something to do relating to football whether it's coaching or whatnot.
"Football is always going to be a part of me."
McDonald set a personal record with 31 repetitions on the bench press and wouldn't object to moving to center.
"If I want to be in the NFL I've got to play any position,¡± said McDonald. "If they want me to play quarterback, I'll try it."
Despite the display of abundant talent that won't be returning to the Spartans next season, Coach Mark Dantonio didn't watch the departing players - even Bell, Gholston and Sims - with a bittersweet taste in his mouth.
"They made that decision and you have to support those decisions," he said. "That's a part of life here and that's what you'll do. It's a big day for them, and you hope for the best and you want the best for them.
"I'm a realist. So when they decided to leave, that's over. We need to recruit another guy and we need to move on. What I will miss is that interaction - seeing Will Gholston walk down the hall with that big smile on his face or Le'Veon jabbing at me. I'm going to miss those guys, but that's a part of this. When they decide to go, the best thing we can always do is look forward, be happy for them and help them any way we can."