Pair hamstrung due to leg injuries Solid efforts by ex-Warriors
• Photo gallery: UH Pro Day 2010
BY Stephen Tsai
CARSON, Calif. — The weather was Southern California perfect.
The Home Depot Center turf was accommodating.
Everything, it seemed, was in place for former University of Hawai'i football players John Estes and Blaze Soares to have the times of their lives.
But each suffered a hamstring injury while running the 40-yard dash — dashing their best chance to make much-needed impressions on the more than 50 pro scouts attending yesterday's Pro Day.
"I trained this hard, and something like this happens," said Soares, his right thigh wrapped with an ice pack that could not numb his emotional pain.
In a makeshift medical area, Estes sat in a folding chair, his face reduced to a blank stare.
"I'm very disappointed," he said.
Of the 22 former Warriors who participated in yesterday's Pro Day, Estes, a center who started every game during his four-year UH career, and Soares, a hard-hitting linebacker, were the most highly regarded pro prospects. Both believed they could use the combine-like event — in which prospects go through a series of disciplines testing strength and speed — to fill the voids in their portfolios.
Once considered a lock to be drafted, Estes had drawn concerns since the end of the Warriors' disappointing 6-7 season.
Although he played both guard and center at UH, National Football League analysts believe Estes is suitable only for snapper. In the NFL, where teams often only have eight offensive linemen on their game-day rosters, a one-position blocker has less value.
Estes needed to prove that he projects to be a future NFL starting center. But while he played in the East-West Shrine Game, Estes was not among the five centers invited to last month's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
"I wanted to show I could run, and I wanted to do the (position) drills," Estes said.
He got off to a good start during the first session, in which heights, hand spans and arm lengths are measured.
Last year, Estes' reach was measured at 29 1/2 inches — an inch shy of what has become the NFL's minimum for a center. Kenny Zuckerman, Estes's agent, said that number was set after years of study.
"They feel there's some merit to it," Zuckerman said.
The belief, Zuckerman said, is that a center's long reach is needed to fight off bigger nose tackles attacking out of a 3-4 defensive scheme.
Estes appeared to be somewhat tense when his arm reach was being measured yesterday. But he showed a slight smile when his reach was announced at 30ﬁ inches.
"That inch plus (from the previous measurement), in the grand scheme of things, probably means more than what John runs in the 40," Zuckerman said. "That was an important inch."
Soares, who missed the entire 2008 season because of a torn Achilles, rebounded to lead the Warriors in tackles last year. It was the first injury-free season of his UH career.
But Soares believed he needed to prove he was fast enough to play at the next level. He spent the past three months training in Arizona. His goal was to run the 40 in under 4.6 seconds.
A few days earlier, a contingency plan was finalized in which the running portions — 40-yard dash, pro-agility drill and L-test — would be moved to an indoor facility in Redondo if rain forecasts were accurate. As it turned out, the mercury, which was at 49 degrees in the early morning, had gone up to the high 70s when the field testing began. There was no rain, so the event remained on the Home Depot property.
Maybe it was the rush to go through each event, or maybe it was the change in weather, but several former Warriors were concerned they were not properly warmed up.
Estes had an impressive start in the 40-yard dash. He covered the first 10 yards in 1.80 seconds, and was at 3.06 at the halfway point. But in the final 10 yards, he felt pain in his left hamstring, the one he injured two years ago.
"I tweaked it," said Estes, who was done for the day. "I'm disappointed because I wanted to do the next two events" — the pro-agility drill and L-test. Both are obstacle courses that measure lateral quickness and change of direction.
Soares said he felt a "pop" in his right hamstring at the 10-yard mark.
"I don't know what happened," he said. "Luck of the draw, I guess. I did everything possible to get ready for this day. I felt my strength was all for the running events. For this to happen, this really sucks."
Two scouts, who requested anonymity because of their teams' policy on commenting publicly about a prospect, said Estes and Soares will be hurt by not having 40-yard times.
Soares acknowledged as much, saying, "To be honest, it probably will hurt me."
Estes might be able to absorb the setback better because he has a larger body of work for scouts to access.
Before suffering the hamstring injury, Estes bench-pressed 225 pounds 25 times, also a benchmark for prospects.
"It's really a pass-fail test (for offensive linemen)," Zuckerman said. "If you're 25-plus, you can play right now. If you're under 25, they don't think you can play right away."
Still, Zuckerman said, "the bench is not necessarily a functional strength. John has great functional strength on the field. He has great athleticism and balance, and good body lean, which enables him to use his hands in a powerful way."
Soares said he probably won't be able to sprint for another couple of weeks. Estes did not have a timetable for when he would try to run again.
UH head coach Greg McMackin said he will arrange for a retired NFL scout to coordinate a 40-yard dash in Hawai'i if Estes or Soares want to attempt the distance before next month's NFL draft.
"We're here to help them any way we can," McMackin said.