This NFL draft, there are three Wayne State Warriors to keep an eye out for: Valorian Cunningham, Robert Kelly, and Brandon Lee.
Cunningham has hopes of becoming an NFL safety; a position that he has not played since his freshman year. Cunningham has played linebacker for the majority of his career at WSU. He says he is too small to play linebacker in the NFL, so he is trying to enter the league as a safety.
Cunningham says the biggest disadvantage he has faced in his climb to the draft is coming from a smaller school.
“In the regional combine and at the pro day, you’re going against guys from Ohio State, Michigan and all these other big schools, so scouts already have their eye on certain people at certain schools,” He says. "Being the underdog just makes him want to work harder."
Cunningham had his pro day at Western Michigan University. He says he felt he did extremely well and he was really excited to learn that a few scouts knew who he was. He was the only player there that was not from Western Michigan.
Kelly plays offensive line at guard and tackle for the Warriors but is hoping to get drafted as a guard for the NFL.
But football was not always a high priority for Kelly. When he made the switch to guard his junior season, he found a new love for the game that came hand in hand with the fact that he could dominate his new position.
Cunningham says he loves the game and wants to play professionally, but not for the money or fame.
“It’s not all about playing football, it’s about what it teaches you… the discipline and stuff,” Cunningham says. “I love the sport so much. I want to impact people. I want to be somebody to look up to; I want to be a role model to kids, it’s about teaching people and helping others.”
Kelly says he wants to continue playing because he “loves everything about the game.”
“To this day, I’m still training, learning new things,” he says, “Every day, I work out and train because this is something I really want.”
The players train with Jim Kielbaso at Total Performance Training Center in Wixom.
Cunningham has been working with ex-professional safeties to get back into the mindset of a safety. He says he is working on his footwork and he learns new things every day.
“On off days, I’m working on technique; that’s what the league is looking for,” he says.
Every day, after dropping off his fiancé at work, Kelly goes to the weight room then heads to the field.
Cunningham had his pro day at Western, and attended the regional combine in New Orleans.
Kelley had his pro day at Illinois State University, attended the regional combine in New Orleans, and was also invited to the Detroit Lions’ local pro day. He also played in the National Bowl, where he was offered a scholarship, and a scout sponsored him to play in the Tropical Bowl.
Both players pay for their training, travel and everything else out of pocket. Kelly said for each bowl game and the regional combine, he paid about $1,000 every trip.
“I’m just thankful for everyone who helped me and contributed for me to get to this point,” Kelly says, “I think it was all worth it.”
Cunningham says he was not nervous for his pro day, just ready.
”Yeah, sure, they’re D1 and they work hard, but I work hard and I can compete with any level.”
Cunningham’s dream team is the Detroit Lions. If he does not get drafted in the NFL, he hopes to play in the Canadian Football League to gain more exposure. He says he is giving himself two years to enter the league. If he does not play football professionally, his fallback plan is to get his MBA. His goal is to own an athletic apparel business with a few of his teammates.
Kelly says his dream team to play for would be the Dallas Cowboys because “they have one of the best offensive lines in the league right now and if I could even go there just to learn that would be amazing because learning from the best helps you become better.
School is also Kelly’s back up plan. If he does not get drafted, he hopes to do workouts with teams and remain an undrafted free agent. He has done some CFL workouts already.
He says his biggest dream is to get drafted to a team in the NFL and finish his engineering major in the off season because “he’ll have the education and the big paycheck.” He hopes to use his degree to go into computer-aided design.
Cunningham showed potential at their respective pro days and the regional combine.
“I was really just trying to stay focused, remember my technique, and have fun,” says Cunningham. “It’s serious, but you have to enjoy it.”
Kelly said he felt well prepared for the regional combine and put out great numbers on all tasks.
“I felt really good about my combine because I was one of the top lineman there.”
Kelly said one of the Chicago Bears’ scouts recognized him at his pro day at Illinois State, and his agent told him that teams know about him.
“I’ve been trying to do everything in my power to get noticed by NFL teams,” he says, “It’s surprising to me, more teams know who I am than I expected.”
Kelly was competing against top lineman from the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and the surrounding area at the Lions’ local pro day.
“Each pro day I went to, the competition got harder and harder.”
The harder competition, Kelly says, helped him push himself.
Kelly says the disadvantage of coming from a D2 school is the competition level.
“[Other} than that, I don’t really see any other disadvantages. It’s just about the work you put in,” Kelly says.
Since their regional combine took place on March 11, the players have been training and waiting.
“It’s really a waiting game after pro day,” Cunningham says. “They don’t give you your numbers that day.”
Cunningham says he looks to his faith during the long waiting period between the combine, pro day, and the draft.
Kelly says he hates the waiting.
“I’m not nervous. I’m excited. I don’t try to get my hopes up about things. I feel just ready,” he says.
Kelly says his fiancé pushes him during times where he lacks motivation.
“She tells me to remember what my main goal is, what I need to focus on, and what I’m doing all of this for,” he says.
Cunningham says the players from WSU are like a big family.
“If one of them make it [to the NFL] and I don’t, I still feel like I made it,” he says.