Editor’s note: Wide receiver Niles Paul, drafted by the Redskins in the fifth round out of Nebraska, is keeping a weekly diary for The Post about his efforts to cope with the NFL lockout and make the team.
The whole process before the NFL draft was very long and stressful. The first step was probably the most important one: figuring out where to train. This decision was particularly difficult for me because I was torn between training at the University of Nebraska, which is what I’m used to, or leaving the state and doing something different.
I didn’t want to leave because I love what strength coach James Dobson has us doing, but I almost felt like I had to because there was no way I was going to be able to focus in Lincoln, Nebraska. There were so many distractions.
So I decided to train where I would have no distractions but still feel like my abilities would be maximized. The place that I felt would do that for me was IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida.
When the strength coach, Jeff DiIlman, called and started talking to me, I knew that this was the place for me. Not only do they do things to get you physically ready for the combine, but they also prepare you mentally to become an NFL player.
Training at IMG academies was a love/hate thing for me. I loved how hard we worked on a daily basis. I’ve never felt so in shape in my life. We worked out almost everyday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. I hated it because I felt like a child again. They put us on a diet and pretty much gave us all bed times. I ate foods I probably never would have tried in my life, but it was all for the best in the end.
The next step was playing in the Senior Bowl, which in my opinion was the best part about the whole process because I was able to compete against some of the top seniors in the nation.
I’m not saying that the Senior Bowl still wasn’t a tough experience, because not only did you have to learn a new system in a matter of a few days but you also had to visit one-on-one with teams from the time you were done with practice until midnight.
So there was little time to learn the playbook, but you had to figure out a way to make it work. It was all just one big test. They wanted to see how you would react under the pressure and stress. I looked at the Senior Bowl as my last chance to show coaches what I was made of, and it was my mission to prove all the critics wrong.
The worst, but most important, step was the NFL combine. As soon as you get there, you are sent to the hospital to be x-rayed and tested. I don’t think I have ever been in a hospital as long as I was in the one in Indianapolis. After you get back from the hospital, you have to go meet with teams, just as you did at the Senior Bowl. That was just Day 1. Day 2 wasn’t any better. We traveled room to room, meeting with team doctors who examined you like a lab experiment. They wanted to make sure that if you had any previous injury that it still wasn’t bothering you, and if they felt like something was wrong, they could send you back to the hospital to be looked at more thoroughly.
Day 3 and 4 were when things started to get better because we could focus on showing the coaches what we were made of physically. Still a nerve-wracking experience, but after it was over I never felt so relieved in my life. I was just happy it was finally over and all I had to do was play the waiting game.
They found issues with me throughout this whole process that I never knew I had, and it was my job to convince them they were no longer a problem.
This whole process was probably the most stressful situation I have ever gone through in my life and I’m glad it’s over. Now I can go back to focusing on what I love to do and that is just simply play football.