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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame stars' Combine work sets Draft stage

April 23, 2020

This year, it was Chase Claypool turning heads at the NFL Combine with another superlative effort for a former Notre Dame player.

Chris Finke, the former walk-on wunderkind, too.

Troy Pride Jr. could become a second-rick pick in the NFL Draft that kicks off Thursday night – the league’s first-ever all-digital affair due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- after his performance at the event.

Claypool measured in at 6 feet, 4 inches and 238 pounds; he clocked a 4.42 40-yard dash – tied for 13th-best among all positions -- on the turf at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.

The 5-10 Finke uncorked a 40-inch vertical leap – tied for 12th and just a half-inch below Claypool.

Pride’s 4.40 40 tied for third-best among all defensive backs.

Cole Kmet’s vertical (37) was No. 1, broad jump tied for second (123) and 40 third (4.7).

The former teammates are just the most recent examples of the kinds of performances for which Notre Dame athletes keep logging at the NFL’s annual meat market since the arrival of Irish strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis in January 2017.

“First off, the guys we have are as good as any guys I’ve ever been around,” Balis said. “What I mean by that is their work ethic, the care-factor to train at a level that’s going to put them in a position to do great things on the field, is incredible. So I think any time you get a chance to work with guys that have that kind of want, that kind of grit, you know it makes for a very successful situation.

“I think we’re blessed because we have Coach (Brian) Kelly; he sets our vision in place and puts everything in a way that drives us all. It’s very easy for us to be able to have success when you have that kind of support from your head coach and your athletic director (Jack Swarbrick). All of our position coaches, the incredible staff that I have.”

The Irish players’ combine work this year became increasingly magnified in recent weeks after the coronavirus forced the cancellation of Notre Dame’s annual Pro Day showcase for NFL coaches, executives and scouts. Alohi Gilman, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Jalen Elliot and Tony Jones Jr. also had chances to showcase their skill-sets in late February and early March at the Combine.

One year ago, Miles Boykin – with nearly identical measurables as Claypool this year – logged a 4.42 40, 43.5 vertical, 140-inch broad jump and 4.07 shuttle to rank among that class of wideouts all-around best.

In that same setting in 2019, Jerry Tillery, the former Irish stalwart defensive tackle, ranked in the 91st percentile or better in four categories among his position group: 40-yard dash, 10-yard dash, broad jump and shuttle.

Drue Tranquill’s 31 reps at 225 pounds on bench press led all linebackers in last year’s event.

Balis again singled out the comprehensive approach modeled by the Notre Dame program, which has had 10 players drafted – including three first-rounders – in the past two NFL drafts.

“There are so many pieces that go to this; having a great nutrition staff, having an athletic training staff that does everything they can to keep our guys healthy,” Balis said. “All of these things go into the guys having success. So it’s truly a team effort, it’s a collaborative effort.

“The goals get set and once the goals are set, the guys attack them. Who they are, their DNA allows them to follow a path of greatness, the path of being a champion, it’s a path to doing things the right way. We have many resources and great people here to help them do that.”

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