NORMAL — Teammates at Illinois State, Davontae Harris and Dalton Keene were assigned to different teams for the East-West Shrine All-Star Game.
Still, Harris and Keene had similarly positive experiences during a nearly week-long showcase for NFL personnel.
"My first impression was all the scouts," Harris said of arriving in St. Petersburg, Fla., to begin preparations for last Saturday's game. "The scouts were already there. Everyone was having meetings."
"You talk to scouts and tell your life story,” said Keene. “Something I don’t do that often is talk about myself. It was a little bit different. I think I did all right. I’ve got nothing to hide, so it’s a pretty short story.”
Harris is ranked as the No. 32 draft eligible cornerback by nfldraftscout.com and has been projected as high as the fifth round in the NFL Draft on April 26-28.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Harris estimates he spoke with 28 or 29 of the NFL’s 32 teams.
“The first day I got there I had 12 meetings. It was right to business when I got there,” he said. “Most of them were kind of general. They want to know about your background, who you are as a person and if you had any off-the-field issues.”
Harris said one team showed him video of himself in game action and asked him to evaluate his play. Harris also spoke informally to a man in clothes not bearing a team logo he later discovered was an NFL general manager.
“There were 300-plus scouts and media around the (practice) field,” said Harris. “Every team I spoke to gave me an idea they would draft me but not where they would draft me. They all had me at a draftable grade.”
The 6-4, 280-pound Keene met with six or seven teams mainly because his height and weight fit some teams' defensive schemes better than others.
“I’ve played interior (line), but I think I could play on the outside,” Keene said. “Teams are looking at me potentially as a pass rushing specialist on the end in some schemes.”
Harris recorded three tackles for the West, which won the game, 14-10.
“Once the game started, I felt like I was back playing at ISU,” said Harris, who is training in the Dallas area to prepare for the draft. “They pay real close attention to everything you do.
"Every person you interact with you treat with respect, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because you never know who you’re talking to.”
Playing for the East, Keene also had three tackles and recovered a second-half fumble.
“The second half was a lot better than the first half. It took me awhile to get going,” Keene said. “I hadn’t put on pads for two months and was trying to go against guys who had been in bowl games. I was able to make some plays the second half.”
Ranked as the No. 39 defensive end prospect by nfldraftscout.com, Keene plans to stay on the ISU campus and train with Redbird strength coach Jim Lathrop to prepare for a possible pro career.
Both Harris and Keene called the visit to the Shriners Hospital in nearby Tampa a highlight of their experience.
“That was my favorite part. The overall experience was pretty awesome,” said Harris. “To see those kids go through so many different things and see them smile while they go through adversity every day is pretty special and humbling.”
Keene was “adamant” about visiting the hospital because he had missed a similar outing in high school when he was named to the Illinois Shrine All-Star Game.
“It was the best part of the trip,” he said. “They’re just kids pushing through all that stuff. They have that ability because of the Shriners. God willing if I make it to the NFL, I want to give some money back to the Shriners.”