Contact was frequent and nearly instantaneous for Blake Serpa as a defensive end.
Little has changed as he pursues a chance to play professional football.
After he capped a five-year career at Central Michigan with second team all-MAC honors in 2015, Serpa set out for New Orleans for the 2016 NFL regional combine on March 13. Players are on display like a piece of steak behind a butcher shop’s glass case, as scouts examine seemingly every inch. There’s a flurry of photographs taken, video recorded and statistics written down.
In the multi-billion dollar business of the NFL, the imagination of scouts is limitless. Players' skills are examined thoroughly to determine which contributions a team can extract from the available talent pool.
Serpa, who helped lead Kaneland to the IHSA Class 5A semifinals and a 12-1 record as a senior in 2010, was an all-state tight end and defensive end that season. He had stats that looked like they came from a videogame; 13 rushing touchdowns, seven receiving touchdowns, 12 sacks and four blocked kicks.
A versatile athlete, Serpa said he will transition to linebacker and slimmed down to 246 pounds from his collegiate playing weight of 260 to 265 pounds. He hopes to sign with a team as a free agent and earn his way onto an NFL roster after rookie camp. The NFL Draft is set for April 28 to 30 in Chicago.
“Playing in the NFL was always a dream of mine,” Serpa said. “I had success at the high school level and continued on the last five years in college. There’s a point where it goes from being a dream that is seven to 10 years away to maybe I can do this. It’s surreal to think that I’ve reached that point in my career.”
As adjustments go, Serpa had plenty to make since the Chippewas wrapped up their 2015 season on Dec. 28 with a 21-14 loss to Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. He said he envisioned NFL teams would consider him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Under the tutelage of former NFL wide receiver and Kaneland Hall of Famer Don Beebe, Serpa began a football makeover. He worked to improve his speed and agility. One team at the regional combine stressed that if he thought he could play inside linebacker, Serpa would have to move in multiple directions and make plays in open space.
The drills he’d done for five years as a defensive end would change, and in New Orleans he performed many of them for the first time in front of a very judgemental audience. One that could control his future employment.
“I was nervous at first,” said Serpa, who led CMU with three sacks and nine tackles for a loss in 2015. “I had my hand in the dirt as a defensive end for the last five years. There was an offensive lineman making contact with me immediately, and I came forward whether it was a run or pass play. Now, I’ve got to transition back and forward and probably not receive contact on every play.”
At the Central Michigan pro day on March 17, Serpa had a jolt of confidence after his performance in New Orleans. He did linebacker and defensive line drills for scouts in attendance. Whether he plays standing up – in a three- or four-point stance – on offense, defense or special teams, Serpa just wants a chance to contribute to an NFL team.
“At the combines, you can see not everyone there has a shot to play at the next level,” Serpa said. “There were about 100 players on defense and at the end 10 to 15 of us were asked to stick around and chat with the coordinator running the drills. I was told I did well on the linebacker drills, which gave me a shot of confidence headed into my pro day.”
• James Nokes writes an On Campus column on area athletes competing in college. Have a column idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.