Mind Game: The high stress of the NFL Draft

By Maya Golden - bio | email

Most people interview twice for job.

NFL Draft prospects interview for four months. This year, about 10 East Texas players have endured the physical and mental tests.

Every answer or every hesitation counts.  

Aaron De La Torre is one of the rare few who traveled the rough journey to become an NFL player. 

"I remember going like, 'Man, I just want to go play football!'" De La Torre said of the draft process.

Now an SFA defensive line coach, the former Lumberjack was scrutinized from head to toe as an NFL prospect.

It was what went on inside his head the NFL was just as concerned with as his 40 time.

"Basically that's what it is," De La Torre said, "Can this guy come in and fit on our team and handle the money and handle the success and the limelight?"

"If you're not prepared for that, you're not going to do a good job at that," he said of the questioning. "If you're not honest, they're going to see right through that. If you have baggage they are going to know."

"I had an individual workout with the Giants. It was me and Michael Vick and Jeremiah Trotter. When we were done the guy gives us a packet with a 400-plus questionnaire asking, 'What would you do in this situation?'"

De La Torre signed as an undrafted free agent with the Steelers and later the Dallas Cowboys.

While he dealt with the stress of pursuing his pro dream, another East Texan has been witness to the experience for hundreds of players.

For four years, Rory Dukes of Tyler served as an assistant with the NFL combine's psychological evaluations.

"They're trying to find out if a player has a football aptitude," Dukes explained.

Dukes said some professional teams hire companies to handle the psychological evaluations. Prospects speak to doctors then are questioned by team officials. A good answer is not always obvious. One evaluator asked players simply why they wanted to play in the NFL.

"She wanted someone to say, 'because I love physical contact,' 'I love to hit,' 'I love to win.' Those are the kind of answers she was looking for."

Dukes said a players mentality has increased in importance.

"With Commissioner (Roger) Goodell implementing all these discipline rules now, character has become a much bigger aspect of the evaluation process."

The NFL is a business with prospects rated on strengths and weaknesses. A player considered unable to handle league pressures may never get the call.

"If they determine he's mentally weak or he may have a poor aptitude for learning, for assimilating information or they just think he's a bad guy it can affect where he falls in the draft," Dukes said.

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