Trey Rutherford can't wait to become a football player again.
The burly six-foot-five, 312-pound offensive guard is preparing for the University of Connecticut's pro day next Wednesday. That's when the Markham, Ont., native will participate in agility, speed and position drills before NFL scouts, looking to show he has the tools to play professionally.
More tests and interviews with individual teams could follow leading up to the NFL draft April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas. Rutherford understands it's a process but is looking forward to getting back on the field.
"Absolutely, that will be terrific," he said with a chuckle during a telephone interview. "I can't wait to put some pads back on and hit someone.
"On my pro day, I want to erase any doubts people might have. I want to let them know, 'Hey I'm legitimate.'"
Rutherford, 22, is projected as a priority free agent so a solid pro day performance would only boost his draft stock. Regardless of whether he's drafted or signed afterward, all Rutherford wants is a chance to play in the NFL.
"I think I'm pretty balanced player," he said. "But if I was to break it down I'd probably say if there's a goal-line situation, I think putting me in wouldn't be a bad idea because I'd be able to blow up a pretty big hole.
"Any team that signs me will get someone who's happy to get back to football instead of doing this vertical jump stuff. I want to show I'm keen, determined and focused and that football is very important to me. All I want is an opportunity, after that it's up to me."
Rutherford appeared in 44 games at UConn — including 10 as a true freshman in 2014. He saw action at fullback as well as both guard and tackle spots but considers guard as his natural position.
Rutherford concluded his university career playing in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 20 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. It was an eye-opening experience.
"I've never seen so many scouts in my life in one place at one time," he said. "That was really awesome.
"I think having all that talent in one place and playing against each other you get a picture of what the next level might be like."
Rutherford admits he's not a finished product and has improvements to make.
"I'd probably say my hand speed and accuracy," he said. "When I punch on pass protection, I have a tendency to round the punch with my right hand.
"I've got to be more accurate with my hands."
As a Canadian, the next level for Rutherford could also involve playing in his native land. Rutherford is ranked second in the CFL scouting bureau's top-20 prospects for this year's draft.
"I've thought about that (CFL)," Rutherford said. "I'd feel absolutely honoured to go anywhere to anyone who values me enough to be on their team.
"I'd love that. I'm not really leaning to one side more."
Rutherford made a major commitment to football at age 16 when he left Ontario to attend high school in Kent, Conn.
"Growing up I was told if you wanted to go to a Division 1 school coaches would want to see you play against American talent," he said. "So I left home to pursue that and do what I needed to do.
"It was tough for about a week, then I settled in. The biggest differences in terms of football were the speed of the game and having a guy being right in your face instead of a yard off the ball. That was really about it."
Rutherford is scheduled to graduate in May with a sociology degree and marvels at how quickly the last four years have passed. University life has taught him some valuable lessons.
"My time here progressively got better and better," he said. "It taught me now to prioritize and manage my time and meet deadlines for school but also when it comes to football to always play to the best of my ability.
"Just to keep a starting job at the college level is a grind every day. As time went on I think I got better, stronger, became more of a student of the game and increased my football IQ."
Rutherford is looking forward to both the NFL and CFL drafts and finally learning where his football future lies. And he's more than ready to make the jump to the pro ranks.
"I'm looking forward to being able to play football and not have to worry about having an assignment due tomorrow," he said. "That will be an absolute pleasure."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
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