It's been nearly 25 years since Mario Cristobal participated in Pro Day.
The Oregon head coach did not attend his senior Pro Day at the University of Miami due to a nagging knee injury he sustained in his final game as a senior. Instead, Cristobal spent the months following working as an assistant strength coach, where he was able to prepare for his next shot.
"I could rehab and be able to pay for it, whatever I needed to do, to train and go out for Pro Day the following year, a lot like Jimmie Swain today," Cristobal said, "And then later that summer I was able to sign a rookie free agent contract with the Broncos and that was my one shot in the NFL. Certainly not the conventional way to do so, but I chased it hard, I was able to have an opportunity."
While Cristobal's time with Denver was short-lived, a two-year stint with NFL Europe guided him into his coaching career, where he is helping nearly a dozen current and former Ducks prepare for their one shot: becoming a professional football player in the NFL.
On Thursday, in front of the 31 of the NFL's 32 teams, wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, defensive lineman Jalen Jelks, defensive back Ugo Amadi and linebacker Justin Hollins, who all were invited to the NFL Combine in February, got a second chance to impress.
Mitchell is coming off a record-setting season with UO. The wideout became the single-season leader in receiving yards with 1,184 yards, leading the Pac-12 in receiving yards as a junior. Despite a stellar season for Mitchell, the junior decided to strike while the iron is hot and declare for the draft. He improved his draft stock on Thursday, recording a 6.93 second three-cone drill, which would be sixth among 29 wide receivers to run at the Combine. But the 6-foot-2, 189-pounder still feels he has a lot he can improve on.
"Using my hands at the line of scrimmage that's something I feel I need to work on," Mitchell said. "I'm rising above the pressure."
Amadi improved his vertical to 34 inches, a 1.5 inch improvement from his February performance. Jalen Jelks, who only participated in two drills, matched his vertical leap at the Combine at 32.5 inches while falling three reps in the bench press. Hollins did not update any of his official drills from his results at the Combine.
Tony Brooks James, who had 57 carries for 306 yards and 21 kickoff returns for 548 yards for UO before sitting out of the Redbox Bowl with a left knee injury, got his chance to impress NFL scouts after not receiving an invite to the Combine. The Oregon runnng back recorded a 4.17, 20-yard shuttle, third among running backs, and a 7.2 second three-cone performance, placing him 10th out of 16 running backs to participate in the Combine.
"Today was it," Brooks James said. "Do-or-die day for me. I left it all on the field. ...major chip on my shoulder. From not being invited to a bowl game or Combine and been looking down on, I had a chip on my shoulder that I had to brush off today."
So, how did he feel about his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
“Money,” Brooks-James said. “Money.”
Joining eight current Ducks were former players Vernon Adams Jr., Charles Nelson and Jimmie Swain. Cristobal says he admires each of Oregon's players for putting themselves out there, as getting drafted is not guaranteed.
"As long as you have an opportunity to pursue it, you pursue it for as long and as hard as you can," Cristobal said. "Remember, I was that guy that chased it and got cut, and went out to NFL Europe and went out to NFL Europe again until I was just about banned from going to a camp. That's how hard I chased it, because its your only opportunity to do it.
"As long as its in their blood, it's in their heart, and they feel they have an opportunity to do, we encourage it all the way."