Photo provided by Nic Hover
This article is a part of the Trinitonian’s coverage of Trinity University’s response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Click here to read the rest of our coverage.
When the Trinity football team defeated Rhodes College 52-7 on Nov. 16, senior wide receiver Tommy Lavine and senior defensive back Nic Hover hoped their final game as a Tiger wasn’t their last time on the gridiron. After the season ended, the two team captains quickly set their sights on making it to the National Football League (NFL).
At the start of the spring semester, Lavine and Hover began training with strength coach Mike Clark after the football team’s usual morning offseason workouts, focusing on lifts and drills typically done by NFL prospects. As they trained week-in and week-out, the duo’s biggest worry before Spring Break was scheduling a pro day — an event where players from universities across the country showcase their skills for NFL scouts and executives. Trinity’s Division III status makes the school an unlikely stop for the nation’s top scouts, which forced Lavine and Hover to look elsewhere for an opportunity to display their skills.
Head coach Jerheme Urban, who played nine seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver after playing at Trinity, worked to schedule a pro day for his players at other universities as just one way to help get them in front of scouts.
“I have attempted to do all that I can. It started off by setting up a NFL Junior Day for the two of them, and then I reached out to every scout that I personally know for evaluations. Thankfully we had some NFL representation on campus last summer in fall camp, and I have distributed their game film the best I can,” Urban said. “We’ve sent out films of them running on their own, but teams are very particular on the angles that things are filmed at and the amount of information that they can truly gather from ‘homemade films.’”
Nic Hover runs the 40-yard-dash. Video provided by Nic Hover.
According to Lavine, San Antonio’s two Division I schools couldn’t accommodate him nor Hover for their pro days, as the University of Texas-San Antonio closed their pro day to players from their program and the University of the Incarnate Word didn’t plan to host a pro day this year. Running out of options, Lavine and Hover turned east to Rice University.
“They were gonna let us come down and do a pro day there because they usually allow outside players to come and be a part of their day,” Lavine said.
With a pro day now planned for March 24 at Rice, Lavine and Hover took off for Spring Break intending to come back to campus and focus on position-specific drills. Little did they know that once both of them left for Spring Break, they wouldn’t be returning to campus.
“I was actually at my high school field doing some drills by myself when I got the email from Danny Anderson,” Hover said. “I texted some of my friends to see if they had gotten the same thing and we were all just kind of … I think the best word I can use is pretty shocked. It was unbelievable.”
Anderson’s March 11 email announced the campus-wide shift to online classes and the cancellation of all spring sports as a result of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. The monumental message, sent during the heart of Spring Break, spread quickly to various parts of the globe.
“I went to Guatemala with some friends, and we were deep-sea fishing one day, and Wyatt Messex actually, the quarterback, comes running up to where I was in the cabins like ‘Dude, the school year’s over. it’s done,'” Lavine said. “When we got back from Guatemala, Nic and I thought ‘OK, despite the facilities being closed at Trinity and we can’t train with Coach Urban, we’re still gonna train on our own and plan for this pro day.’”
According to Lavine, a few days went by before the NFL stated no scouts could legally travel to any university or pro day to watch athletes perform. After the NFL’s statement, Rice canceled the March 24 pro day that Lavine and Hover worked so hard to secure.
“The pandemic just put everything on a halt in terms of trying to at least have someone come watch a 40-yard dash or train in front of people. I live with five or four other seniors, and when this whole thing started, I went to Home Depot and got some cement bags, I got some Home Depot buckets and then some PVC pipes and made a little makeshift bench rack,” Lavine said. “We have some other dumbbells and some other type of equipment where we can do lifts, but we’ve been finding stuff around the house and using it as different ways for strength training. The yard isn’t in the same shape as a turf field, but it’s still big enough to allow us to at least do some sort of running.”
On Wednesday, April 15, Lavine drove around San Antonio determined to find somewhere to film a virtual pro day. After coming across five fields closed off because of the city-wide shutdown and getting kicked off of Trinity’s football field, Lavine managed to make it onto Central Catholic High School’s field. Quickly, he performed drills such as a 40-yard dash in front of the camera, and he now plans to send the video out to any team willing to watch.
Tommy Lavine hopes this video will be enough to catch an NFL scout’s attention. Video provided by Tommy Lavine.
Meanwhile, Hover explained that being back home has allowed him to work with his personal trainer, just in a different way than usual.
“I’m able to go to my footwork trainer, work on my speed and quick-twitch stuff for our position drills, so I’ve been going to him pretty regularly,” Hover said. “Still doing the social distancing, so we try to limit it to one or two guys per session, so we can stay safe. I’ve been putting in the same amount of work, just with a little bit of unorthodox methods.”
With over 300 million Americans under stay-at-home orders, professional sports are at a complete standstill. The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) suspended play midseason while Major League Baseball (MLB) postponed their Opening Day indefinitely. However, with their season not starting until early September, the NFL is hoping to avoid any delays. One of the league’s marquee events — the draft — is still scheduled to go on April 23 through April 25.
Throughout their training, Urban has cautioned Lavine and Hover that not hearing their name called at the draft isn’t the end of the road.
“Obviously beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and with all of the uncertainty of when the season will happen, it would be awesome if someone took them as a late-round pick, but I don’t foresee that happening. The feedback that I had received from teams was that they would both be priority rookie free agent types of guys, so we’ll see how all of that works out here with the current situation,” Urban said. “Oftentimes it is better to be undrafted than picked late, provided you have a couple of teams to pick from. We have all talked and have a timeline in place. I definitely think they should give this thing a year considering how unique this spring is.”
Urban himself signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent after graduating from Trinity, and he went on to become a part of two conference championship teams across nine years in the NFL.
“It’s just a really big inspiration. To see that it’s happened before gives me more motivation to work even harder,” Hover said. “Everybody has their ideas about Division III football players, but Coach Urban is living proof that it can happen, so my mindset is ‘Why not me?’”
Both Lavine and Hover indicated they plan to continue training and trying to play at the next level even if they aren’t drafted next week. Whether it be in another league such as the Canadian Football League, as Hover noted, or working through the summer and fall trying to make it onto an NFL practice squad as Lavine is ready to do, neither Tiger player is ready to hang up their cleats quite yet.
“Coming to a small school and playing has really opened my mind in that, if the NFL weren’t to work out, I could see myself still playing in another league professionally and giving it a shot,” Lavine said. “I enjoy this game so much, so I still want to continue to try to play at the next level, whatever it is.”