Church preparing for NFL Pro Day


Justin Brown

Running back Devin Church looks to elude an Illinois State defender Saturday, Sept. 17 at Hancock Stadium. Church finished the season playing in 11 games, 197 rushig attempts for a total of 1066 yards.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

Devin Church’s Eastern football career came to an end a little over two months ago, but a new football career may be around the corner for the former Panther running back.

Church recently attended the College Gridiron Showcase Jan. 7-11 in Bedford, Texas, where he was able to perform drills and play in a scrimmage in front of NFL scouts and Canadian Football League scouts.

While he was at the showcase, he was able to talk to eight different NFL teams and one CFL team. But those conversations were more based on who Devin Church is. They’ve seen his highlights, but they wanted to know who he was.

And the type of player people see Church as on the field, is the same off the field,  Head Coach Kim Dameron said.

“He’s smart, he adjusts well to situations, he’s a good student, he is a guy that is a heck of a competitor. All you have to do is watch him run,” Dameron said. “You know how he loves to compete. He’s that way off the field. He’s that way in the weight room, he’s that way in the classroom.”

After the season Church had at Eastern, it does not come as much of a surprise that he was invited to the showcase.

His name came on the radar earlier in the season and he kept in touch with them and said his invite came because of the accolades he earned.

Schools from the SEC and the Big 10 were also represented in the showcase. Players from Auburn, Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan State, Tennessee, Illinois, an Ole Miss running back and more were playing along side Church.

Those players may be from the bigger schools, but it is all the same for Church.

Running back Devin Church high fives a teammate after a 30-yard TD run Saturday, Sept. 17 at Illinois State University. Church carried the bal 15 times for 81 yards in the Panthers’ 24-21 win in the Mid-America Classic.
Justin Brown
Running back Devin Church high fives a teammate after a 30-yard TD run Saturday, Sept. 17 at Illinois State University. Church carried the bal 15 times for 81 yards in the Panthers’ 24-21 win in the Mid-America Classic.

“Football is football all around the country,” he said. “The only thing that changes is the size of the players. Football is football. Skill is skill…At the end of the day the school is just a name.”

And Church felt like he was one of the top running backs to play in the showcase.

Church transferred to Eastern two years ago from Illinois and he turned into a go-to-guy, especially in his senior season.

Matt Eleweke, a friend of Church’s, was part of the reason he transferred from Illinois. Eleweke was on the team in 2014 and told Church he would get carries and play right away, which was the selling point for him.

Church led the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing yards. He finished the season with 1,066 yards on the ground with seven touchdowns.

He was also the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver with 386 yards on 41 receptions, which he turned into six touchdowns.

That versatility is what is going to help him get to the next level, Dameron said.

He proved at Eastern that he can run a route and make a reception, break off a run and run “downhill,” and also be a 3rd down running back and bringing that to the next level will help.

And the improvement he made from his first year at Eastern to his senior season was pretty drastic.

Church said he did not reach the goals and accomplish what he wanted to in his junior season, but completed the goals he wanted his senior season, but still wanted more.

“I think my junior year I was so worried about just breaking every play,” he said. “I was so worried that I have to get a touchdown. If I touch the ball three times, I have to score two out of the three. I wasn’t really concerned with getting the first down, I wasn’t really concerned with getting a 5-yard run. That’s what changed my senior year.”

His senior season he became OK with the 5-yard run or a 7-yard run and that is actually what helped him break loose on his long touchdown runs this season. In back-to-back games he had a 30-yard touchdown run and a 50-yard touchdown runs.

Another thing Church improved on was his ability to play without the ball including blocking and picking up pass protection, Dameron said.

“That’s something he would have to do at the next level,” he said. “That’s something he’s going to have to be really good at.”

Since the season ended two months ago, Church has been preparing for the NFL Pro Day at Northwestern March 14, putting tremendous focus on the 40-yard dash.

He said the 40-yard dash has become “everything” to the NFL teams and that he is very confident in his side step and change of direction step right now.

Church is shooting for a 4.40 second 40-yard dash. Whether it is a high 4.40, or a low 4.40, he is going to get it he said.

And that will be one of Church’s last chances to show the NFL scouts what he can do before the draft and this is where he is hoping to “shoot up the charts.” There will be 28-32 teams at the Pro Day.

“I just try to tune them out and do my thing,” Church said. “If you overthink it or try to do too much, you’re going to mess up.”

His name is already in the mix for the draft, a free agent signing, or a tryout and after the Pro Day, he is going to know where he is.

The teams want to see his speed and strength and the Pro Day is going to answer a lot of unanswered questions he said.

And personally for Church, making it to the NFL has been his dream since he was 8-10 years old. It is not a guarantee that he will be playing there next year, but he is waking up everyday and training to get there and loving every minute of it.

“It’s definitely a blessing,” he said. “All I ever dreamed of was to make it to the league. To be so close to accomplishing something like this is a great feeling. Everyone around me is so supportive.”

The NFL draft is April 27-29 in Philadelphia.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]