Through the luck of the alphabetic draw, Cortez Allen found himself going first in his group in all the drills at the NFL Scouting Combine last week.
First among the defensive backs to be prodded by a panel of doctors. First to bench press 225 pounds. And first to experience what might be the most important 4-point-something seconds of an NFL prospect's life, the 40-yard dash.
"When I first saw that, I was like, 'Wow, I'm first at everything, I hope I don't mess up,' " Allen said. "But I tried to look at it like, I've got a chance to set the bar. I'm the first one up, the first one to get looked at. And as the days went by, it was cool that I was the first. I was the guy who set the standard."
The former Citadel cornerback set a fairly high standard at the combine, enhancing his rep as a small-school prospect, much like former Bulldogs teammate Andre Roberts. The 6-1 1/2, 197-pound Allen earned solid reviews for his performance in Indianapolis, and he might have earned middle to late-round money in the process.
In fact, he will reportedly work out for the New England Patriots today.
"(The combine) is a job interview like one you will never have again in your life," said Allen, a native of Ocala, Fla., who earned All-Southern
Conference honors during his career at The Citadel. "But you are not just interviewing with one company. There are 32 different companies who are hiring. You are doing it all at once, and you have one chance to make your impression. It's pretty crazy."
Allen went in well prepared for this job interview. A good week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game in Orlando helped him earn an invitation to the NFL combine. And he trained for months with other athletes from XAM Sports, the agency that represents Roberts, who just finished his rookie season with the Cardinals.
"Andre's advice has been invaluable for me," Allen said. "He's been very helpful in this whole process. He told me, 'You are as good or better than everybody there. Just have faith in yourself and go all out.' "
Defensive backs were among the last groups to hit the field at the Colts' Lucas Oil Stadium for the bulk of their combine drills last Tuesday. But there was plenty for Allen to do before that, beginning with the doctors.
"As soon as you get off the plane in Indy, you go to your hotel room and then you are right back on the shuttle bus to the hospital," Allen said. "Blood, urine samples, MRIs, X-rays -- every test you can think of."
Doctors were particularly interested in the knee injury Allen suffered as a freshman at The Citadel, but everything checked out well. The second day brought a complete physical exam.
"You've got five doctors pulling your shoulders, legs, knees, making sure everything is stable," Allen said. "They check your vision, flexibility, everything."
Coaches and scouts from NFL teams were just as inquisitive. Allen estimated he spoke with about 25 teams.
"They want to know how and where you grew up, do you have any red flags like a criminal history or suspensions in high school," he said. "Some talk more about you as a person, some want you to go in there and talk about the defenses you've played, what you would do against this kind of route, to make sure you know the game."
The third day brought the bench press (Allen did 18 reps at 225 pounds) and the infamous Wonderlic test, a battery of 50 questions in 12 minutes.
"They don't tell you the score," he said. "But I wouldn't say the questions are hard. I feel like I did pretty well."
Last Tuesday was the big day for DBs, highlighted by the 40-yard dash. Allen was timed as low as 4.45 seconds, though his official time was recorded at 4.51.
His broad jump of 10 feet, 9 inches was tops among cornerbacks, as was his 60-yard shuttle time of 10.87 seconds. His 20-yard shuttle (4.01 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.76) were very competitive.
A report on SI.com included Allen among players who improved their stock at the combine:
"The small-school corner, who received a late invitation to the combine, proved his worth on the field," the report said. "His 40 times were solid, averaging 4.50 seconds and his position work was outstanding. Allen quickly moved in reverse displaying NFL caliber footwork and smooth hips. He looked athletic in all the routines and proved himself worthy of a middle-round selection."
Now that the combine is over, the work doesn't stop for Allen. His pro day is set for March at The Citadel, where former teammates such as Demetrius Jackson and Erik Clanton will also work out. Then there are individual workouts and interviews with interested teams in advance of the NFL draft, set for April 28-30.
"There's no slack-off after the combine," he said. "But it's all worth it to get where you want to go."