AZUSA, Calif. --The NFL Scouting Combine is billed as “The World’s Toughest Job Interview,” but Luke Marquardt might beg to differ after taking center stage in front of approximately 20 NFL scouts as well as a crowd of over 200 observers at Azusa Pacific’s football pro day Thursday afternoon.
“We want all of our guys to finish well with the program, because this is always going to be home for them,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz. “Sometimes an event like this is the right type of ceremony to really close the chapter for a player like Luke. Now he’s completed his journey here, and I’m excited to see what happens next.”
Marquardt was one of 10 NFL Draft hopefuls who took part in Thursday’s workout at Azusa Pacific’s on-campus artificial-turf practice facility, the Dillon Recreation Complex, but he was without question the center of attention and the primary reason representatives from over a dozen NFL organizations visited the Azusa Pacific campus just two weeks prior to the start of the draft.
“I’m just happy to finally be able to show my athleticism and skill here and get a chance to show the scouts what I can do before the draft,” Marquardt said. “I’ve worked so hard to come this far, and I feel like it’s been a journey that just has an incredible story. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to play at the next level.”
After measuring 6-feet, 8.5-inches and weighing in at 317 pounds, just as he did at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Marquardt took the field in front of scouts, media, and over 200 members of the Azusa Pacific community who showed up to see the NFL hopeful in action.
“There’s really a lot to like about Luke physically, because he’s a man among boys in his physical attributes, from the way he moves to his quickness and power,” said Azusa Pacific offensive line coach, NFL Hall of Famer Jackie Slater. “He’s on par with the very best guys in the country and some of the best I’ve ever been around, either playing with or coaching. His intangibles are what impresses me. He wants to dominate people, and when you’re competing, when you’re playing the game of football, you have to play with an edge, and that’s what he does. That really gives him an opportunity to be special.”
Marquardt’s impressive physique and 31 reps on the bench press were attention-grabbers at the combine in Indianapolis, but he was unable to participate in other physical tests or offensive line drills as he recovered from a foot injury that had already caused him to miss the entire 2012 season.
“I knew it was a big senior season where I had to prove a lot, and it was definitely a heartbreaker not being able to play with my teammates and contribute to the season,” Marquardt said. “It was a disappointment, but I’m grateful that I got an invite to the combine and was able to have this pro day. My interviews with the teams went great, and I think they got to see the kind of man I am and the kind of person and player I am. I feel like this helped give them a good sense of where I am right now.”
Although he still did not participate in Thursday’s physical testing, which included the 40-yard dash, broad jump, shuttle run, and three-cone drill, Marquardt put on a show in the positional drills, putting his unique combination of size, strength, and speed on display against his position coach, Azusa Pacific offensive line coach and NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater.
“It’s one thing to show up at the NFL level big and strong like Luke is, but it’s another thing to show up there with an aptitude, an IQ, and an acumen to be able to solve problems,” Slater said. “If you talk to any of these NFL coaches, they heard me give the commands and saw the different things he did that showed that he knows how to solve problems. He’s a rare individual with rare skill and ability, and he’s precocious in that he’s above where he should be relative to solving problems.”
Seven of the 10 pro day participants were former Azusa Pacific players, with Marquardt joined by fellow 2012 seniors Robby Palacios and Justin Mathews in the offensive line drills. Defensive end Mike Willis and cornerback Darrell Wilson also represented the 2012 senior class, while 2011 seniors Kory Johnson, a defensive end, and safety Brandon Owens rounded out the Cougar contingent.
“With Luke being the type of the athlete that he is, you’re going to have eyeballs on you here,” Santa Cruz said. “If you take care of your business in the classroom and on the football field, you know the NFL will be around if you have that talent, and there aren’t a lot of schools out there that can say that. To have the media market we have, the location in the San Gabriel Valley with the connection to the Inland Empire and Orange County, this is truly an amazing place. We’re on the rise, and this is the place to be.”
The NFL Draft is a three-day event which takes place at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The first round of the draft takes place on Thursday, April 25, followed by the second and third rounds on Friday, April 26. Rounds four through seven are held on Saturday, April 27.
THEY SAID IT:
“Working with Coach Slater every day in practice, he loves the dominating effort so I’ve taken that intensity a lot from him. It’s been incredible having him around the last two years, because he knows every trick in the book, and he has every circumstance down. It’s been awesome just getting all that information and advice from him.”
“This event was awesome, especially to have a big crowd out here. I’ve been blessed to be able to go to Azusa Pacific the past five years. It’s a great school and I’m happy to have this event here. I knew there’d be a good amount of scouts, but it was great to have the crowd, too.”
“I love being the underdog and turning heads, so it (attending the combine) was a fun experience. Not being able to run the 40 at the combine and not being able to do it here is definitely a disappointment; I’m just happy I was able to do position drills with great footwork. I felt fast and I felt confident, so I was happy with my performance.”
Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz:
“This event shows how our program is moving towards the evolution of becoming the nationally-branded football program that we’re striving to be. It speaks even more volumes to the type of community we have on this campus. This school is one of the best-kept international secrets, because the people are so great here. Seeing all the excitement here for our pro day today, I just don’t know why you wouldn’t want to be at a place like this where our athletes matter and our students matter.”
“The thing I’ve heard is that everybody’s impressed with Luke, and now they have to try to make an evaluation. Now they go back to the office and decide where they want to pick him in the draft. We know he’s a draftable prospect, and even though it’s just a few weeks away, there’s still a long time between now and then. We think the world of him – he’s a low-mileage guy with a high ceiling, so it’s exciting to see what the next step is for him.”
Azusa Pacific offensive line coach Jackie Slater:
“Our goal here is to be technically sound. Regardless of how big we are or how fast we are, we have to be able to solve problems technically, and I think that was on display with our guys. I’m proud of him, and I thought he looked really good today. I thought he was impressive, and everybody I’ve talked to, including the coaches from the pro teams, were very impressed.”
“It was a great atmosphere, and I think it was not only great for all of our players in the program, it was great for our head coach Victor Santa Cruz. He has great ambition for this program, and he wants to take it to a level nationally that is rivaled by nobody. He treats all his players and his coaches that way, and for where he wants to go with this program, this event was good, and I think it’s only going to get better. The type of guys we’re bringing in are high-quality character guys, and they’re also big-time athletes.”
“I think it was obvious today that he’s a lot more comfortable now than he was a few months ago. He’s a big man, and I remember having different nicks and things I went through (in my career), but he’s healing and he’s on the mend. He’s doing a great job, and I’m looking forward to watching him play at the next level.”