Excitement abounds as Winters prepares for NFL Draft

Brian Winters holds up the Wagon Wheel with Flash, after the Kent State football team won the PNC Wagon Wheel Challenge against Akron on Nov. 3, 2013. 

Tim Dorst

During the NFL Combine in February, former Kent State offensive lineman and NFL hopeful Brian Winters experienced an instance of bad luck when he injured his pectoral muscle during the bench press. The strained muscle kept Winters from participating in any other combine drill and brought his weekend to a quick and disappointing end.

Things have looked up for Winters since then. The 6-foot-4-inch, 315-pound guard will wrap up his final week of preparations before making the trip to New York for the 2013 NFL Draft beginning Thursday. Soon, the long journey for the three-year letterman in wrestling at Hudson High School, three-time All-Mid-American Conference selection and four-year starter for the Flashes is likely to culminate with a phone call from his new team and step into the professional ranks.

After months of working out nearly every day to get his body into the shape it needs to be, Winters’ excitement just continues to grow, and he reflects back on his college career at Kent State as day one of the three-day draft starts tonight at 8.

“It’s a been an up-and-down ride at Kent, obviously, and we capped off a great year,” Winters said. “I feel that helped me a lot, and I had a lot of great experiences that I can use here moving forward. I’m really happy with where I am right now, and I wouldn’t trade any of it.”

Winters’ road through college saw two head coaches come and go and three consecutive 5-7 seasons that could have discouraged any aspiring athlete. But Winters found ways to turn negatives into positives leading into his senior season, where he blocked for one of the most successful rushing attacks in college football and captained the front line on the best team in program history.

Now the offensive lineman will attempt to take his on-field attributes and leadership qualities to whichever NFL team calls his name on draft day. Winters has had meetings with several NFL teams since the Kent State Pro Day on March 6, including workouts with the Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and most recently the Arizona Cardinals. He said he feels the better potential suitor for him at this point would be the Titans, although he doesn’t rule out the possibility of being picked by any other NFL team.

“I really think Tennessee would be a great fit for me on and off the field,” Winters said. “I just love everything about it, and I feel most comfortable there and with the whole team down there. But of course no matter where I go, I know the players there are going to be good.”

Titans scouts made a visit to Kent State two days after the Pro Day on March 8 to watch Winters and fellow lineman Josh Kline in a private workout.

A number of NFL draft analysts and web sites, including nfldraftscout.com, project Winters to be selected in the second or third round. If this is the case, Winters will have to wait until Friday before learning of his fate and his future destination.

While preparing for the draft, Winters has remained in contact with a few of his teammates who will be returning to the Flashes for their senior years. Senior lineman Phil Huff, who has lined up a couple spots down from Winters at center for the past two seasons, said Winters possesses many key qualities that would benefit any NFL team’s offense on the front lines.

“[Winters is] a dominant run blocker, and a stonewall pass blocker,” Huff said. “I think he’s one of the most underrated players in the draft. He’s going to go on a team, start right away and he’ll play for 12 or 15 years. He’s just that kind of player.”

Another one of Winter’s teammates, senior guard Pat McShane, played one season with Winters and the Flashes after transferring to Kent State from Indiana. From his experiences, McShane said the trait that stood out most to him was Winters’ pure aggression every time he stepped onto the field.

“I really liked his tenacity,” McShane said. “Just the way he attacks people out there. He’s always attacking people and just playing mean and aggressive. So all of that is a big thing.”

While his style on the gridiron displays the aggressive side of Brian Winters, his demeanor off the field shows the person behind the pads. Winters had kind words for McShane, Huff and his other college teammates who will now be given the responsibility of anchoring the offensive line without him. But Winters said he feels very confident about how the remaining players will be able to step up and perform by the time the 2013 season begins.

“[McShane] and [Huff] are great leaders, and even though we lost a few key starters on the line, they won’t skip a beat,” Winters said. “We have a lot of guys coming in who are really well-improved, and those guys can learn quite a bit from the guys in front of them. I feel like some of the younger guys will fill in perfectly, and Pat and Phil will do a great job keeping it all together like we did when I was there.”

The draft-day experience can be a stressful time for any emerging college football player. Aside from being under the bright lights of New York City at a nationally televised event, the wait to be selected — longer for some than others — can work on a player’s nerves, and at times be discouraging if his selection comes later than expected. Winters has no doubt that his experience at the draft will be somewhat similar.

“It’s really going to be nerve-wracking,” Winters said. “I talked to my agent, and he said to make sure I’m either by myself or with someone close. So it might just be me and my girlfriend hanging out in a room because I really don’t want the stress. I want to get through it as quickly as possible, and then afterwards I can celebrate.”

If the projections from scouts and draft analysts become reality, Winters will not have to wait too long before seeing his name flash across a television screen and ultimately stepping onto an NFL field every Sunday.

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].