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February 24, 2014

2 from MVC hope small-school rap doesn’t keep them out of NFL

INDIANAPOLIS — Two former Missouri Valley Football Conference players are taking part in the National Football Scouting Combine, which began in earnest on Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium and will wrap up Tuesday.

North Dakota State offensive lineman Billy Turner and South Dakota outside linebacker Tyler Starr received invitations.

Both have a story to tell: two pretty good college football players who have a legitimate chance to find work in the National Football League in 2014.

Turner can play all three offensive line positions, although he is viewed primarily as a guard or tackle. Starr is adept at rushing the quarterback and being a playmaker.

“From a lot of the stuff I’ve heard, a lot of the teams, they like me at guard. I can play either position. I can snap the ball as well. That was the first thing I ever played, center. A lot of teams like my versatility. But for the most part, a lot of the teams are talking to me about playing right tackle and playing guard. So we’ll see what happens,” the former Bison standout said late last week.

Turner’s size became an issue, of sorts, as he was measured shorter at the combine than his collegiate playing height.

“They got me at 6-4.7, which was surprising because I was 6-5 something at the Senior Bowl. So they have me over an inch shorter,” he explained. “I weighed in at 315. My arms were 34 Inches and [my] wingspan was 80-something.”

As big as Turner is, he can also move. He was officially timed at 5.16 in the 40-yard run.

“A lot of the teams liked my athleticism, the way I was moving through all the drills. On top of that, they liked my feet and the way I played the game, getting downfield, getting on guys, hustling around,” the Minneapolis native said.

Despite his good measurables, the fact that Turner played at the Football Championship Subdivision raises questions from some scouts and teams about the level of play that he has faced. Turner played in the Senior Bowl and had invitations to participate in the NFLPA All-Star game as well as the East-West Shrine Game.

Still, the NFL teams had questions.

“It was important to me just because a lot of people had a question mark above my head just from the school I came from. I came from an FCS school, and FCS guys definitely don’t get as much love as a lot of these other guys from the BCS schools,” he said. “Regardless of me being up at North Dakota State, we won three national championships in a row, we beat every FCS team that we played the last four years, but there’s still a question mark above my head. I felt it was important for me to get there and prove myself that I can play with those guys.”

So what position would Turner feel most comfortable playing in the NFL?

“I think it depends on the scheme and wherever I get drafted. But to be honest, I was playing tackle my entire career up in North Dakota and I always wanted the chance to play guard, just because I’m a physical guy,” he explained.  

“I’m a physical run blocker, so I always wanted to get inside, get a little closer to that defender and just try to run some people over a little more than you can at the tackle position, but I was always kept at tackle because they needed me to defend the edge for our quarterback. A lot of guys I’ve talked to say they want to see me at guard, so we’ll see what happens.”

Starr, meanwhile, is just enjoying the opportunity to show what he can do. Coming from a small town in Iowa (Little Rock, with an estimated population of 400) and playing at an FCS school in college, he can’t believe that he made it to the combine.

“This is where I’ve dreamed about being since I was a little kid,” Starr said Sunday. “I’m enjoying it all. It hit me all right away. I was lying in bed [Saturday night] and saw a commercial [for the NFL Network’s coverage of the combine]. “I thought, ‘I’m here right now. That’s so crazy.’ I would never in a million years think that I would be here. But I’m doing it. I just hope that I can stay focused enough and hit the numbers that I want to hit [today].”


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