Running down a dream

Imagine spending the past 10 or 15 years of your life working toward one dream, knowing that there would be one moment when you would find out whether or not that dream would become a reality.

For Keenan Noel and Jake Reed, that moment is nigh.

Close friends and 2011 Columbus North graduates, Noel and Reed will both be waiting by the phone this weekend, hoping to land jobs in the NFL.

The NFL Draft begins tonight, when teams make their first-round selections, and rounds 2 and 3 are Friday. It concludes Saturday with rounds 4 through 7 — and that, for Noel and Reed, will be the big day.

Neither has any illusions about being chosen during the first two days — in fact, Noel knows he isn’t likely to be selected at all. Reed is a potential late-round selection, but for both former Bull Dogs, the real action will probably come after the draft ends, when teams scramble to sign undrafted players to free-agent contracts.

Noel said that self-awareness is of utmost importance for players in his position.

“You’ve got to be real with yourself in this,” he said. “Some people think they’re going to get drafted and all that, and I think that’s a big thing that hurts people emotionally, because they think that’s the end for them right there rather than getting it the hard way, going through the mud, you know?”

Extreme makeover

Since their respective senior seasons ended — Noel at Ball State, Reed at Indiana — both players have been hard at work preparing themselves for the NFL’s offseason meat market. While on-field performance certainly counts for something, a player’s professional hopes can depend just as much, if not more, on his performances during workouts for scouts.

Both Noel and Reed tried to put their best foot forward at their school’s respective pro days — showcases set up for draft-eligible players to have a chance to impress potential employers.

Ball State had its pro day March 24; Indiana’s was April 1.

The process of preparing for a pro day or combine, Noel said, can be quite a bit different than getting ready for a football season. Rather than focusing on heavy weightlifting and building bulk, the emphasis was more on explosive movements — getting the body primed for peak performance in such drills as the 40-yard dash, vertical jump or shuttle run.

For Reed, preparing for the draft has been a pretty straightforward process. A center for the Hoosiers, he’s almost certainly going to play either there or at offensive guard at the next level, though he’s open to alternatives — “Whatever they need me to do, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

After maintaining a playing weight in the low 290’s in college, Reed has bulked up to about 300 pounds, a weight he’s had pretty good success maintaining thus far.

Noel, meanwhile, has undergone a complete metamorphosis.

During the winter, Noel sat down with his father, North assistant coach Ray Gipson, and tried to assess his football future as honestly as possible. He decided his best path forward would not be on the defensive line, where he played at Ball State, but at fullback, the position he had played while at North.

Working with trainers Dwight Ross and Brandon Ghee at Performance Compound in Tampa, Florida, Noel has rapidly transformed his body. He weighed in at 277 pounds before his final college game; now, he’s checking in at about 248.

“Once I dropped down weight,” Noel said, “it made it so much easier, and I felt more fluid and natural in my movements.”

Call me maybe

Reed hasn’t shown up on many mock draft boards going into the weekend, but that doesn’t mean his chances of being selected are nonexistent. He has drawn interest from a handful of teams, and his phone could end up ringing at any time Saturday.

As the anchor of an Indiana offense that averaged 36.5 points and 504 yards per game in 2015, Reed has drawn some attention.

“I’ve gotten a couple of calls in the last week or two,” he said, “just mainly scouts who are just asking, ‘Is this going to be your number on draft day?’ Just asking if I’ve had any injuries lately, who my agent is, that kind of thing.”

If the call doesn’t come during the draft, Reed will almost assuredly be fielding free-agent offers afterward. While that scenario could potentially allow him to choose the ideal destination, Reed says he’s not really concerned about whether he gets onto a roster through the draft or free agency — just as long as he gets there.

“When you’re in our position, you don’t really know if you’re going to get that chance to be picky,” Reed explained. “You don’t know if you’re going to get to choose from multiple teams; you might get one shot with one team. That’s all we really care about, is getting that one shot.”

Likewise, Noel just wants the one shot. He’s confident that once he gets into a training camp, he’ll be able to make a good impression.

The former teammates have kept in contact periodically throughout the last couple of months, keeping one another posted on their progress as the big day nears.

Getting signed, of course, is only the beginning. Should one or both of them land in an NFL training camp, there’s still the matter of making the team.

“I know we’ve both been really working hard these last couple of months, and we kind of realize that this is when we need to work the hardest,” Reed said. “Even if you do get that call, you’ve still got to be working the hardest you’ve ever worked, so I think we both kind of realize that it’s getting serious.”

The call, though, can make all the work worth it.