Former Virginia Tech offensive lineman Christian Darrisaw made his debut against Florida State in front of 80,000-plus fans clad in black at Doak Walker Stadium.
The true freshman handled the rowdy atmosphere in stride.
Lining up opposite FSU defensive end Brian Burns, one of the ACC’s top pass-rushers going into the 2018 season, didn’t even rattle him.
There were far fewer spectators at Tech’s pro day on March 26 — and no one was looking to knock his head off — but when it came time for Darrisaw to run through position drills inside the team’s indoor practice facility, he told The Roanoke Times in a recent phone interview he felt butterflies.
They started as everybody in the building gathered around him to watch his workout.
His former teammates and coaches, fellow pro day participants, members of the media and 50-plus NFL scouts and coaches formed a ragged circle around the cones set up to mark Darrisaw’s workout space, and all eyes were on him for nearly 30 minutes.
“I've never had that before,” Darrisaw said.
The significance of the moment weighed on Darrisaw as well.
Tech’s pro day was his only chance to have an in-person workout in front of NFL personnel since the league made significant changes to this year’s draft calendar in wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The NFL canceled the traditional combine and shifted testing and in-person workouts to each prospect’s pro day. Teams would normally be able to fly prospects like Darrisaw in for workouts, but in-person visits of any kind aren’t allowed this year either.
Darrisaw had the added pressure of proving he was healthy after undergoing surgery in early January to repair a core muscle injury.
The majority of his nine week stay at EXOS in Pensacola, Florida this year was spent rehabbing the injury instead of getting the specialized training for the combine the company is known for.
Once Darrisaw was fully cleared for on-field activities in early March, he focused the limited time he had left on position drills. He immediately let teams know he wasn’t going to do the combine testing at his pro day.
That decision left him a small window to make an impression on scouts, and set the stage for the most important workout of his career.
“If he wasn't feeling well, had a tight hamstring or tested positive for COVID-19, he would’ve had no chance or other opportunities,” Darrisaw’s agent Cody Recchion said. “There was a lot more pressure this year than any other time for a pro day."
Darrisaw didn’t break a sweat during the first part of the day.
He arrived at the Jamerson Center at 10 a.m. for breakfast at the school’s new student performance center and filled up his plate with bacon, eggs, pancakes and hash browns.
Darrisaw, Caleb Farley, Khalil Herbert and Divine Deablo were all given official NFL combine branded clothing from the league when they moved over to the locker room. The day's first official business was NFL scouts taking out their measuring tapes to get each draft prospect’s arm length, wingspan and hand size.
The height and weight measurements were a little more involved.
“One by one we had to basically strip down to our compressions and stand there,” Darrisaw said. “They even recorded us like they would have at the combine.”
The festivities shifted to Tech’s recently renovated weight room where Darrisaw was strictly a spectator. He watched his former teammates perform the vertical jump, broad jump and bench press.
The bench press felt like the main event with the atmosphere resembling one of Tech’s famed “Big Squat Fridays.” Tech players cheered on each rep and erupted after Herbert did a personal-best 22 reps.
The soft-spoken Herbert showed some rare emotion with a primal scream and flex that his former teammates went wild for. Former Tech walk-on linebacker Austin Rosa’s 27 reps on the bench drew a similar reaction from the crowd.
“I was happy for my guys seeing them achieve their goals,” Darrisaw said. “Seeing Khalil get hyped, that was awesome.”
The rest of the testing — the 40-yard dash, shuttle run and three-cone drill — was all done in Tech’s indoor practice facility. Herbert put up standout numbers again (4.44 40-yard dash) as did Deablo (4.46 40-yard dash), but Darrisaw didn’t see any of that as he started warming up for his time in the spotlight.
Pushing the limit
Darrisaw got an indication of what the NFL coaches in attendance had in store for him when one of the assistants came up to him in the morning and told him to get ready.
“I’m going to push you today,” the coach said.
There were at least eight offensive line coaches in attendance at Tech’s pro day, a number Darrisaw’s representatives were happy with considering there were no other offensive line prospects working out and three other pro days were scheduled (BYU, Michigan and Boston College) on the same day.
"It's always a big indication (of interest),” Recchion said. “‘Especially this year since from what I heard, only three people are allowed in per team ... I think that was a great number.”
Darrisaw found out pretty quickly that they didn’t travel to Blacksburg just to hold a clipboard and take notes.
“Everybody there wanted to poke and prod him pretty good,” Tech offensive line coach Vance Vice said, with a laugh.
Five different coaches led Darrisaw through drills and each one was set up the same way — the assistant would quickly run through a set of instructions and have him do a series of reps. They would give him pointers along the way if they saw something they didn’t like.
Sometimes those tips would even come from the crowd.
Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line coach George Warhop put on boxing mitts and had Darrisaw do a series of hand accuracy drills. Detroit Lions offensive line coach Hank Farley walked Darrisaw through set and punch drills, which Vice said are used to gauge a lineman’s “mobility and balance.”
The most intense period of the workout came when it was Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm’s turn. He got right up in Darrisaw’s face with a blocking pad several times on a continuous pass blocking drill and waited longer than anyone to let up on the reps.
The 43-year old Klemm was nearly 15 years removed from his playing days with the Green Bay Packers, but the 6-foot-3 assistant looked like he enjoyed the drill’s physicality.
“They wanted to see if I would bend or break or fold,” Darrisaw said. “They wanted to see how I would react.”
Darrisaw’s only respite during the workout was a few sips of water when the coaches rotated. There was a nice breeze in the building with the facility's large bay doors open to the outside, but it only took a couple of reps for Darrisaw to get a good sweat going.
“It definitely was unique,” Recchion said. “He's the only one working, when you have other players you can get more rest and watch other guys do drills before you. It was just him and that's it.”
Recchion was watching NFL Network’s live stream of the workout as was Darrisaw’s father Jerronney. Nearly 300 miles separated Jerronney from his son, but they had remarkable similar reactions leading up to Christian’s workout.
“When he actually got on the field and started doing drills, I started becoming nervous,” Jerronney said. “I was like, 'what's going on?' I'm not that type of person. That's the first time I’ve gotten nervous in the last three years since he's been there. I told him to go out there and give 110%, and I think he gave 150%. To look as healthy as he did, I was very proud."
Vice heard overwhelming positive feedback from the coaches he sought out afterwards.
"Several talked about his flexibility, his ability to bend and heavy hands,” Vice said. “I think he erased any questions. Things during the season came so easy for him, the effort part of it. When they had concerns about his feet being heavy, he's just so smooth. I think that was brought to the forefront in his workout. They saw how nimble he is, what his balance is, the things that make him a special, special player."
Vice was amused when one coach asked what Darrisaw would have run in the 40-yard dash. Darrisaw said he hadn’t run the 40-yard dash since attending one of Virginia Tech’s camps in high school.
“Hell, I don't know,” Vice answered. “He's fast enough, that's all I know. Y'all can run 40's when you want to. I don't care, I'd rather see him run a 4 foot drill than a 40-yard drill."
Darrisaw would have loved to get some more immediate feedback, but he had media obligations to get through as soon as he was done.
He also needed to take the famed Wonderlic test, an abbreviated IQ exam that features math, vocabulary and logic questions. A scout from the Baltimore Ravens administered the test and Darrisaw had 12 minutes to answer 50 multiple choice questions in Tech’s locker room.
By the time Darrisaw put his pencil down, the indoor practice facility had cleared out and he was free to go eat a well-earned Filet Mignon at 622 North Restaurant and Wine Bar in downtown Blacksburg.
Now all that’s left for Darrisaw is the waiting.
Darrisaw will continue to speak to teams via Zoom — each team is allowed five virtual video interviews with each draft prospect — and he’s already spoken to several of the teams and coaches that were in attendance at his pro day.
But even as the draft inches closer, Darrisaw isn’t hung up on the latest draft punditry and neither is his family. They all agreed at the outset of the process to ignore what Jerronney Darrisaw describes as the “outside noise.”
“I try not to get bogged down by it,” Jerronney said. “If I get involved in that noise I'm going to be always wondering every day, looking at the internet, at mock drafts and I'm going to want to call the agents when I see something change. We haven't been focusing on that.”
Recchion is more plugged into what team's are saying, and while he wouldn't comment on interest from specific teams, he remains confident in Darrisaw's first round projection. The Young Money APAA agent still always advises his clients things “can get kind of crazy” on draft night.
"You do hold your breath a little bit,” Recchion said. “That's not a negative thing at all on Christian, it's just being realistic. There could be a run on quarterbacks early that affects things or the lineman might not come off the board as early as you think. It's kind of how the draft works, that’s what is hard to predict.”
That unpredictability could be just as much to Darrisaw’s benefit.
Recchion used the example of the recent trade that sent quarterback Sam Darnold from the New York Jets to the Carolina Panthers.
“It opens up the Panthers at spot eight for the lineman that they need,” Recchion said. “There are going to be things that happen between now and even on draft day, teams moving up and back.”
Darrisaw’s draft stock has been remarkably steady since the end of the 2020 season. Top analysts are all projecting Darrisaw will go in the No. 13 to 20 range on the first night of the draft.
The Los Angeles Chargers (No. 13), Minnesota Vikings (No. 14), Las Vegas Raiders (No. 17), Washington Football Team (No. 19) and Chicago Bears (No. 20) all have picks during that stretch and are in need of an offensive tackle.
Raiders offensive line coach Tom Cable and Bears offensive line coach Juan Castillo attended Tech’s pro day. Washington’s general manager Martin Mayhew was in attendance along with the team’s executive vice president of player personnel Marty Hurney.
Darrisaw will spend the weeks leading up to the draft in Blacksburg. Tech’s strength and conditioning coach Ryan Shuman is supervising his workouts in the team’s weight room.
For draft night, Darrisaw is planning to have a small family gathering in Blacksburg or Maryland. He wasn’t one of the 16 players invited to the draft in Cleveland, but was asked by the NFL to participate virtually and will have cameras set up on draft night to capture his reaction.
It hasn't quite hit Darrisaw that in a matter of weeks he will become an instant millionaire based on just the signing bonus for anyone selected in the first round.
"It will be a surreal moment, definitely," Darrisaw said. "When I wake up one morning and check the bank account and see all those commas."
Next: Christian Darrisaw expects to hear his name called on the first night of this year’s NFL Draft on April 29. The Roanoke Times will be there with Darrisaw as he waits to get the call and see how his night unfolds.