The morning after a dinner with Coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jessie Bates III was at McCreary Field House as one of nine former Wake Forest players participating in Pro Day.
Tomlin was there, too.
“I mean, it’s a dream. It’s pretty funny to see — sit down and have dinner with him last night, just being able to talk to him just like a man, just one-on-one, was really cool,” Bates said Tuesday. “And I think I have a lot of those coming up here soon.”
Bates’ NFL Draft stock is rising, into the first round of a few mock drafts. His performance at the NFL Combine about a week ago meant he only went through a couple of drills Tuesday morning. The Steelers pick 28th in each of the first two rounds and, in addition to Tomlin, Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert was at Wake Forest on Tuesday morning.
The Steelers brass was only a sliver of the NFL representation at Wake Forest, with 29 NFL teams and two Canadian Football League teams represented in a group that featured about 40 scouts. Drills included the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttles and 60-yard shuttles.
Bates is the only former Deacon who left with eligibility remaining. His redshirt sophomore season ended with the Belk Bowl victory, and Bates decided to leave the Deacons — amid some doubt because his statistics in 2016 were better than in 2017 — largely because he believes in his ability.
“I came out because I had a gut feeling that I can open some eyes. I know what I was capable of and I know what teams would eventually see as they got more into my film and watched me,” Bates said. “I’m very well-spoken, I think, and I did very well in the interviews as well.”
While Bates is garnering national interest, he’s at the top of a full-ranging totem pole when it comes to Wake Forest’s NFL prospects.
Tight end Cam Serigne and defensive end Duke Ejiofor both project as mid- to late-round selections. Serigne wrapped up his career as the ACC’s all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns for tight ends, while Ejiofor had 23½ sacks in his career with 43 tackles for loss.
But Serigne left the East-West Shrine Game with an injury in January. He was going through drills and measurements with ease Tuesday morning until tweaking something while catching passes from quarterback John Wolford. Serigne was unavailable for an interview after Pro Day activities ended.
Ejiofor recently had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He only went through interviews and measurements at the NFL Combine, and only did measurements Tuesday — though his arm wasn’t in a sling at Wake Forest.
“I’m feeling pretty good. Unfortunate about the surgery, but I’m confident about my film and my interviews and my production over four years,” Ejiofor said. “I decided to get it before the combine so I’ll be ready for training camp.”
Other former Deacons are looking for any kind of shot at the next level. Those are Wolford, linebackers Grant Dawson (a Reagan graduate) and Jaboree Williams, defensive end Wendell Dunn, kicker Mike Weaver and tight end Devin Pike.
“I just want a shot. If I get a shot, it’s going to be hard for them to let me go,” said Dunn, who started a school-record 50 games for the Deacons. “Never been a big tester, schoolwork or anywhere else, but I’m a football player. That’s just what I do.”
This was an intense day of testing, one that Williams and other former Deacons likened to a game day.
“It was fun, it was just a long process and I’m just happy it’s over and I can just spend time with my friends and my family,” Williams said.