INDIANAPOLIS – He was one of the first players to head to a podium, and he told one of the NFL Scouting Combine's most interesting stories.
Dayton tight end Adam Trautman, who spoke with reporters in Indianapolis bright and early last Tuesday morning in the first media session of the week, looks and acts the part. He's 6-5, 255. He caught 70 passes for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and developed as a blocker. He's well-spoken with the right attitude.
But just a handful of years ago, he couldn't get a single major college to even consider him. A two-way player as a veer/triple-option quarterback and cornerback at a high school that didn't have enough players for a full two-platoon, Trautman sent emails to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools looking for interest, but said he didn't get a single response. "Ghosted" was his term.
Then he decided to go to an FCS school, Dayton, from where not a single player has been drafted for 43 years.
Yet here he was in Indy, projected as a mid- to late-round pick in a tight end class lacking overwhelming star power, as confident as ever that he belongs.
"Every level I've been at, I've been not good enough," Trautman said. "Coming out of high school, you're not good enough to play FBS. And then going to Dayton, no one's ever really played in the NFL … I'm here to keep fighting that and always use that edge and carry it with me."
Dayton's two most famous football alums are Chuck Noll and Jon Gruden. Noll was drafted by the Browns in 1953 and went on to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the '70s. Gruden is a Super Bowl-winning coach as well.
But the Flyers haven't produced a draft pick since offensive lineman Bill Westbeld was taken in the 11th round by Seattle in 1977, and no Dayton product has played in an NFL game since 1975. (Former Dayton punter Sean Smith spent time on the Giants' practice squad last year and currently has a futures contract with them.)
View photos of QB, WR, and TE prospects working out at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020.
Trautman cemented his status as a draft prospect during the week of the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month, going up against Power 5 conference competition for the first time.
During practices all week, he more than held his own against players from schools that wouldn't even return an email. He noticed the guys he was blocking or running routes against weren't quite the same as he was used to, but to him it was more of an adjustment to make than a gap to close.
"The Senior Bowl was huge for me," he said. "I've always wanted an opportunity to go against kids with the Alabama stickers on their helmet, Ohio State, Michigan.
"I didn't think the transition was very rough. After the first few reps, I was like, 'All right, this isn't really any different.' Sure, the kids close a little faster in the pass game and they're bigger and a little more stout in the run game, but I trust in my technique and how hard I worked, and I didn't really have a problem with it."
He got up to speed just as quickly at the tight end position itself. Originally a 220-pound freshman quarterback, Trautman walked up to the offensive coaches a week into camp wearing his red QB jersey and asked about switching to tight end, even though he'd never played there.
"They were like, 'Let's see what you've got,'" Trautman recalled. "I ran an over route, dove and caught it, and they were like, 'Go get a white jersey.' And that was that."
Trautman credits his offensive coordinator and line coach, Austin King, with helping develop his game at a new position over the last few years. Coincidentally, Gruden just hired the former Dayton coach as an offensive assistant with the Las Vegas Raiders, 17 years after Gruden as head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted King as an offensive lineman out of Northwestern.
That's another example of how small a world the NFL can be, and the league is full of small-school players who have made their mark, like Trautman hopes to.
In his case, he'd just be making some history along the way, potentially ending a drought of four-plus decades for Dayton.
"It would mean the world to me," Trautman said if he does indeed become the first Flyer drafted since '77. "Just the amount of time and blood, sweat and tears I put into that program and the amount of love I have for that program, I wouldn't change a thing about where I went to school. It would mean the absolute world to me."