Author's Note: This article was written in the week preceding the NFL Combine.
The Scouting Combine is the make-or-break moment of the NFL offseason. College players from coast to coast congregate in Indianapolis every February to determine their professional fates.
It is, in short, a pretty big deal for a 22-year old fresh out of school.
Former Boston College linebacker Jolonn Dunbar is one such athlete. The second-team All ACC honoree has been preparing for the Combine for weeks, and is anxiously awaiting his trip to Indy.
“I am definitely nervous,” Dunbar said. “It feels like a big audition. It weighs heavy on the heart, and can make it difficult to sleep at night.”
The Combine will do that to a player. It provides a stark contrast from college gamedays, with 70,000 screaming fans turning into a few hundred tight-lipped scouts.
But while Dunbar may be full of nerves, his college career proved he isn’t one to crack under pressure.
When asked about his most memorable games at Boston College, Dunbar identifies 2007’s Thursday night clash against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Most fans remember Matt Ryan's late heroics in the Eagles’ win, but the defense played a major role.
BC held the Hokies to 265 yards, and Dunbar made 12 tackles.
“It was a total team effort,” Dunbar said of the game. “Guys on both sides of the ball made big plays. I was very proud of our defense that night, only giving up 10 points.”
Recruited as both a running back and linebacker out of high school, Dunbar felt his best chance to make a contribution in college was on defense. And in his four years at BC, Dunbar did it all for the Eagles D.
Twice he registered over 90 tackles in a season, en route to 269 for his career. He also added 19.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two picks, and four fumble recoveries.
Two of the recoveries came in what Dunbar would call his best game at Boston College. In a November 2006 matchup against Maryland, Dunbar scooped two fumbles and returned them both for touchdowns—in the first five minutes of the game.
“I couldn't believe it. I felt like the luckiest guy on earth,” Dunbar said of his day, which also included 14 tackles. “It showed that if you work hard, and put yourself in the right place at the right time, good things will happen.”
Dunbar has a team-first attitude that will be contagious wherever he ends up. He knows his strengths and trusts his abilities.
“My biggest strength is just my ability. I have good instincts and I play with heart. In the end, I just love to play football.” He also knows where he needs to improve, and readily admits it. “I need to work on my pass rush abilities, and hand placement,” he went on to say. “Every player has some weaknesses they need to work on. I am no different.”
Dunbar is confident in his abilities, but not arrogant. He expressed a bittersweet sentiment at being named second-team All ACC. While certainly pleased to be honored, he felt he could have been first-team.
He also knows that wherever he goes in the draft, he will be ready to play for that team. He has been projected to get picked somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds, depending on the source. That still does not deter Dunbar from his beliefs.
Once in his destination, Dunbar’s only concern is helping that team win. He also knows a rookie’s place on the team. “My number one goal is to make the playoffs. If special teams is how I can contribute, than that’s what I’ll do. In the NFL you have to earn your right to play.”