MINNEAPOLIS - After months of shaving precious split-seconds from his 40-yard dash time and leaping for that extra quarter-inch on the vertical jump, Mike Maresh wishes the NFL scouts would take one more skill into consideration.
"I tell you what: If they did, I'd be drafted in the first round," the former North Dakota State linebacker said, laughing at the likelihood of NFL teams picking a player based on the strength required to shovel and lift sand.
"I should've kept track," Maresh said, recalling the day-and-a-half he spent last month with fellow Fargoans filling bag after bag to protect the city from floodwaters from the swollen Red River.
As a four-year starter with workout stats that match some of the top prospects at his position, Maresh has at least low-grade fuel for his NFL dream. Feedback from a handful of teams, thanks in part to good words from a bunch of ex-Bison coaches currently scattered about the league, has been positive.
"It would be pretty cool to keep playing football longer," Maresh said this week, speaking by phone from Fargo where he's finishing his studies in physical education and community sports and staying in football shape between classes. "I'm trying to stay as optimistic as possible, just coming from where I come from. I'm not expecting a whole lot. The truth is I have other things in the works if this doesn't work out."
With only seven rounds and 32 teams, Maresh isn't solely focused on the draft. He'll hope for a call Sunday once the scramble for college free agents begins. If it comes, guarantees will not follow.
The roster games played around the NFL could have him in camp one day and handing in his playbook the next.
"For a lesser-exposed school you're kind of bound to get that kid's name pushed as hard as you can possibly push," said Tony Johnson, Maresh's agent. "If he's coming out of Georgia, you're pretty much set to go. The scouts and personnel people are going to have every tape imaginable and they've probably watched his games every weekend in the fall."
Kansas City, Seattle and Tampa Bay have shown interest, but Johnson said he believes Maresh's best chance will be - fittingly - with the Minnesota Vikings. Maresh, whose younger brother Sam has recovered from major heart surgery and is a heralded freshman with the Gophers, would love to be able to suit up with the team he's followed since his youth.
Bill Welle, his trainer at Velocity Sports Performance in Maresh's native Champlin, has seen his client make significant strides.
"Can he play at the next level? The answer is yes. The question is, 'Will somebody give him a shot?' He has to do something to stand out. If he can get into camp, he's going to be able to showcase his ability," said Welle, who used to work with Cris Carter, Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and several other NFL stars at a training facility he co-owned in Florida.
The six-foot-one, 240-pound Maresh wasn't invited to the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February, but he worked out for a handful of teams with other hopefuls at the University of Minnesota in March. Speed is often what separates top picks from undrafted guys. Maresh ran the 40 in 4.77 seconds. His unofficial personal best is 4.63. For comparison, according to Johnson, Brian Cushing of Southern California, considered a first-round prospect, ran a 4.79 in the 40 at the combine.
NDSU's recent rise certainly helps his chance. Maresh played with the Bison next to Joe Mays, who made the team in Philadelphia as a rookie. And even if the highlights came against lesser competition, there are four years' worth of big hits and hustle plays to prove Maresh can play football.
"That's really what it comes down to," he said.