FAYETTEVILLE — Bret Bielema showed his admiration for Kiero Small late last fall, saying the fullback could have a spot on his staff whenever he wanted.
It’s an offer Small may take Bielema up on down the road. But not now. There’s something else he’s trying to accomplish in his football career.
“I want to go perform on pro day and hopefully my name gets called on (NFL) Draft day,” Small said Monday night.
Small will take an important step toward that goal when he’s among 14 former Razorbacks participating in an on-campus pro day at Arkansas today. Players will participate in speed, strength and agility work, then perform in on-the-field drills in front of personnel from professional teams in the Walker Indoor Pavilion.
It’s the second time former Arkansas center Travis Swanson, defensive end Chris Smith and Zack Hocker will work in front of NFL personnel after taking part in the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis late last month. Defensive tackle Robert Thomas was there, too, although he was limited as he continues to come back from a broken leg suffered last fall. But for players like Small, the on-campus pro day serves as the first — and perhaps only — chance to make an impression before the draft.
“I didn’t get to go to the Combine, so this is the first time the scouts will see me do the things that they look for,” Small said. “So I’m really excited.”
Small could be classified as one of Arkansas’ most intriguing prospects despite playing a position that isn’t utilized by every professional team. He’s undersized for most fullbacks (5-foot-10, 242 pounds), but was successful in his role as battering ram for Arkansas’ ball carriers during his career.
Small also showed some versatility in the Razorbacks’ offense last season, finishing with 151 rushing yards, 128 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
He got a chance to show some of those strengths during the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, Calif., in January. He went through a week of practices in front of pro football prospects and garnered some praise from Bill Polian, who was a member of the Indianapolis Colts’ front office from 1998-2011 and now works for ESPN.
“I’ve got a feeling if he’s fast enough he could make it as a running back because he’s got punch,” Polian said during a televised practice session at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl . “As you could see there, he can adjust and catch the ball. It’s a question of how fast he’s going to be. But he’s a guy that’s interesting. You’re going to want to go back and do a little more work on him.”
Small said he enjoyed the week of work, which began the long interview process.
“Dennis Green was my head coach and Willie Parker was my running back coach,” Small said. “So I learned a lot from them during the week. Then during the week there were a lot of scouts there for the practices and I think I practiced very well.”
Small has since spent his time preparing for today’s pro day.
Most of NFL’s prime draft prospects head off to training facilities in places like California, Florida or Texas to prepare for the NFL Scouting Combine and on-campus pro days. But Small took a different approach to his training regiment.
He stayed in Fayetteville and continued his work with Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert. Small’s reasoning was simple: Herbert helped him transform his body in a matter of months before his senior season began last September. So why not stick with what works?
“I trusted Coach Herbs when it came to getting me right for the season,” Small said. “And his resume at Wisconsin, he helped put a lot of guys in the NFL.”
Now, Small will get a chance to prove he’s worthy of finding a way into the NFL.
He wouldn’t offer any predictions for his pro day, but did offer one goal in running the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds or less. He’s also looking forward to the on-the-field drills, believing it will give him a chance to show his versatility today.
“It’s pressure. You want to be successful,” Small said. “But I look at it as it’s part of the process. I played in front of 100,000 people, so I don’t think pressure is pretty much a big thing to me anymore. It’s just more of the excitement to go do it.”