Albany State University head football coach Mike White, right, talks to friends, teammates and members of the media that gathered Wednesday morning to announce that three former Rams players — from left, Justin Blash and Nathan Hoyte, as well as Ronnie Tubbs (not pictured) — had received invites to NFL tryouts. Blash will try out for the New York Giants, while Hoyte and Tubbs both will work out for the New Orleans Saints. All NFL rookie mini-camps are scheduled to begin later this month.
ALBANY --- Albany State’s Justin Blash wasn’t exactly expecting to be picked in last week’s NFL Draft, but the star defensive lineman still couldn’t peel himself away from the draft coverage.
Hope slowly slipped away for Blash as Saturday’s final round came to an end, but the dreams came flooding back a few hours after the last pick when Blash’s phone rang.
“I kind of got water-eyed,” said Blash, a 6-foot-3, 318-pound defensive tackle. “I found out I would be putting on pads again.”
Blash accepted an invitation to try out for the New York Giants, joining teammates Nathan Hoyte and Ronnie Tubbs as the first ASU football players to attend an NFL camp since quarterback A.J. McKenna in 2009.
Hoyte, a running back, and Tubbs, a wide receiver, will try out with the New Orleans Saints, and all three Rams will participate in a three-day rookie mini-camp May 10-12.
“It’s a little sigh of relief because you are kind of waiting and you are kind of hoping and you know you are coming from a small school, so getting an opportunity is a little more difficult,” Hoyte said.
Tubbs, who is also fielding interest from Atlanta, Carolina and Tennessee, plans on making the most of his opportunity.
“I still feel like we are flying under the radar,” Tubbs said. “ I just have to go there and try to outwork the hardest worker. It’s a blessing. It’s a wonderful feeling to get invited. Words can’t even explain it. It feels like my hard work is paying off.”
The last ASU grad to be signed as an undrafted free agent was defensive lineman Walter Curry, who joined the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in 2005 and jumped around to several other practice squads in the following years.
Defensive back Keyon Nash was drafted in the sixth round by the Raiders in 2002 and is the last former ASU star to play a snap in the NFL.
“It’s really all you can ask for is to get in there and have the opportunity to make that team,” said ASU coach Mike White, who knows about the NFL, having played for the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals during his career. “You just want to get into a camp and show what you can do, and nobody deserves the opportunity — especially coming from our squad — more than these three guys. I am so proud of them.”
White later added that Blash, who had 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks his senior season, might have the best shot of the three to make an NFL roster.
“I think Blash has a good shot,” White said. “There are very few guys in the draft that are that big and can run that fast. That is his strength. He has to show that quickness and speed when he gets up there.
“I think Nate and Tubbs are in for the fight of their lives because of the positions they play. There are so many backs and receivers that are out there that can flat-out run. There is no question they have the ability, but it’s one of those things where numbers are against them.”
During a 2012 season in which the Rams finished a disappointing 6-4 and failed to make the Division II playoffs for the first time since an NCAA postseason ban was lifted in 2004, Hoyte and Tubbs shone on offense.
Hoyte (5-9, 195) rushed for a team-high 917 yards and 10 touchdowns. He ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at last month’s ASU Pro Day, which would have ranked 19th among running backs in this year’s NFL Combine.
Tubbs (6-1, 184) was sidelined off and on throughout his senior year with a nagging groin injury and back spasms, but he finished the season with 22 catches for 221 yards and one TD. He ran a 4.45 at Pro Day, which would have made him the 10th-fastest wideout at the NFL Combine.
“My hard work, dedication and work ethic can set me apart,” Tubbs said. “I know every wide receiver in the NFL probably has it, but my jumping ability and route running can stand out, too. I haven’t stopped working out. I was just waiting on this opportunity. It’s amazing to be putting pads on again.”
Each player will be evaluated for three days, along with draft picks, undrafted rookie free agents and a number of tryout players invited by the teams. Those offered contracts will be invited back for organized team activities later in the summer.
There were 11 Division II players selected in last week’s NFL Draft, but Blash still knows the mini-camp could be an uphill battle coming from a small school.
“Coming from a Division II, I really have to work to prove myself,” he said. “I kind of feel like I got overlooked, so I have to prove myself when I get there.”
It’s all about making that first impression.
“When these guys go in, they are going to have to be mentally and physically sharp,” White said. “When you are from a Division II level, you go up against guys from Division I programs, and it’s all about how you match up with them. That matchup tells them where he is, more than anything else.”
Hoyte isn’t even letting himself think about the possibility of things not working out.
“I haven’t really thought of that, and I’m not going to sit here and process that situation,” Hoyte said. “I am just going to take it as it comes and prepare myself for what I have ahead.”