“It seems like a job. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not a student anymore and that I’m unemployed, too,” former Virginia Tech wide receiver Danny Coale said of his preparation for an NFL career. (Lynne Sladky/Associated Press)

It all helped Coale move on from a heartbreaking end to his career in Blacksburg and onto the next step of his life – working out eight hours a day at an Atlanta training facility in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine, which began Wednesday in Indianapolis.

“It seems like a job. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not a student anymore and that I’m unemployed, too,” Coale said this week. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I think every athlete would like to just wake up and work out every day.”

But the Episcopal High grad’s journey to this point hasn’t come without some speed bumps. He arrived at Virginia Tech as an unheralded two-star recruit, only to end last season as the second-leading receiver in school history. That, though, hasn’t stopped NFL scouts from doubting whether at 6-foot, 200 pounds he has the size and speed to play wide receiver at the next level.

It didn’t help that Coale had to pull out of the East-West Shrine Game last month after straining the intercostal muscle near his ribcage while running a slant route during a workout.

“I was prepared and kind of had my mind set on going down there and doing well, but I wasn’t 100 percent and I didn’t want to put myself in a position to get hurt further or not perform at an optimal level,” said Coale, who had 60 catches for a team-high 904 yards this past season.

But he’s back to full health now, and set to perform every drill when the wide receivers invited to the combine take to the Lucas Oil Stadium field Sunday. Coale said his goal is to run the 40-yard-dash in less than 4.5 seconds to help soothe whatever concerns there may be about his speed.

Recent comments by ESPN draft guru Todd McShay, however, seem to indicate Coale will be more than just a late-round flyer for teams if he performs well this week.

“I think he runs well. I think that’s the misconception is that he doesn’t run well,” McShay said of Coale. “At some point it won’t surprise me if he runs in the 4.4 range. I just love his toughness, the way he plays, his ability to catch the ball in traffic. I’m not saying he’s going to be a number two [receiver], but I am saying that he can be a very productive number three in the NFL and be in the league for a long time.”

Coale isn’t putting too much stock into just the 40-yard dash, though. He understands that he can improve on his time at Virginia Tech’s pro day next month, but also that he won’t even compete in any physical drills until his third day in Indianapolis.

“It’s not just about what can you do for me on the field. It’s who are you off the field, because it is a job now and they want to make the right selection on a good person,” Coale said. “You certainly want to show your speed, your quickness, your hands, things like that, but teams have film on you. They’ve seen you play football, which is important.”

One re-assuring presence in Coale’s life these days has been former record-setting teammate Jarrett Boykin. The two friends are training together at the same facility in Atlanta even though they don’t share the same agent.

Both are dealing with projections that call into question whether their skill sets will translate to the NFL. Coale said the duo gets motivation from such talk and that, “he’s pushing me, I’ve been pushing him and I’ve seen him make some gains here.”

Then again, Coale wouldn’t want any other mentality heading into such a crucial moment in his career. After all, he says it’s the “under-the-radar, has something to prove” attitude that has gotten him to this point, on the cusp of achieving his NFL dreams.

“I just want to show teams what I have to offer,” Coale said. “When you’re playing your last few games at Tech you’re totally focused on that — at least I was — and this seemed so far off in the distance. It seemed like it was years away, and now it’s finally here and it’s becoming more of a reality. You wonder where all the years went.”