Two local college athletes hope to make a strong impression this week to give themselves a chance to extend their football careers.
Augustana quarterback Sam Frasco and St. Ambrose kicker and punter Matt Cotiguala will participate Tuesday in Northwestern University's pro timing day in Evanston, Ill., working out in front of NFL scouts in an attempt to break into the professional ranks.
The duo have been preparing for this step since their seasons ended in November.
"It’s been a grind, it’s been taxing on the body doing different things that I haven’t done in the past," Frasco said. "It’s been a completely different offseason not knowing if you have another season ahead of you. That’s even more of a reason to put forth the effort."
Frasco was named the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin's offensive player of the year, capping off a record-breaking career for the Vikings. He set a school record with 2,997 total yards of offense last season, 1,172 rushing, and finished just 41 yards shy of former NFL MVP Ken Anderson's school record for career total offense. He scored 36 career touchdowns and ranks sixth in school history with 216 points.
Despite his capabilities as a dual-threat quarterback, Frasco is being sought after for his possible assets as a slot receiver or return specialist. The Arizona Cardinals contacted Frasco in November, requesting that he attend the pro day in Evanston.
To prepare for the testing, Frasco has been splitting workouts with the University of Iowa's track and field assistant strength and conditioning coach Landon Evans as well as working with former NFL wide receiver Tom Nelson, who runs a speed camp in Frasco's home town of Mt. Prospect, Ill. With Evans, he's been working on improving his 40-yard dash time. With Nelson, he's been working on receiving, something he hasn't done since his junior year of high school.
His bench press has increased from seven reps at 225 pounds and his goal is to reach 16 reps. The average from the receivers tested at the NFL Combine in February was 14. His goal for the 40-yard dash is to run around 4.50 — the average at the combine was 4.44.
"Being an athlete, you see want you want to do and follow that," Frasco said. "Now it's time and I'm really excited for the opportunity and hopefully I can take advantage of it."
Frasco said all he is guaranteed Tuesday is the 40-yard dash, but Cotiguala isn't even guaranteed that. Any other agility, strength or position-specific drills only come at the request of any scouts, whether on the day or via an invitation to training camp. It makes it hard for kickers to really get noticed, though Cotiguala has some eye-grabbing accolades.
The Orland Park, Ill., native earned NAIA All-American honors from the American Football Coaches Association and won the Fred Mitchell Award as the nation's top non-Division I FBS place-kicker after his own record-setting season for the Bees. He was 23-of-25 on field goals with a long of 50 yards and was a perfect 28-of-28 on PATs.
He set NAIA records for field goal percentage at 92 percent and field goals made per game with 2.3. His 23 field goals are a single-season school record and are second-most in NAIA history.
"You just build your confidence and you see what happens. I feel fortunate to be a part of Northwestern's pro day," he said. "You ultimately try and convince (the scouts) throughout your time there that you're good enough to kick in front of them."
Even if he doesn't get a chance to kick on Tuesday, Cotiguala has gotten a chance to showcase his skills. He attended the College Senior Specialist's Kicking Combine last week in Phoenix, held by Gary Zauner. NFL coaches and scouts can't attend the event, but do receive results and recommendations from Zauner, who has coached kickers for over 35 years, including 13 seasons in the NFL.
"Obviously one of my biggest strengths is consistency, which I showed over the season" Cotiguala said. "When you go (to the combine) you just try to do what you can do and not play other people's games. I don't have the strongest leg in the country but I was the most consistent."
Cotiguala also was a strong punter for the Bees, averaging 43.3 yards per punt with a long of 76 yards and 11 times landed the ball inside the 20-yard line. That versatility may make him an attractive prospect for a team in the Canadian Football League.
"I've always kept that as a tool in my belt," Cotiguala said. "If they can bring in a guy that can both kick off, punt and do field goals, he's taking up two positions on the field, which is awesome in their eyes."
Ultimately, whether it's in the United States or Canada, both options can help keep Frasco and Cotiguala's careers moving forward.
"You shoot for the stars and if you land on the moon, they say you're doing good," Cotiguala said. "If the moon is (the CFL), I'm just trying to keep the dream alive."