In just under three weeks, the National Football League Draft will commence from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the annual event during which the best college football players join the professional football ranks. A handful of former William and Mary players will be hoping to hear their names called at some point over draft weekend, or, at the very least, be invited to training camp as undrafted free agents.
Last month, the Tribe hosted a pro day at Zable Stadium, attended by representatives from 18 NFL teams, including reigning Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl runner-up, the New England Patriots and local favorite, the Washington Redskins. Five College seniors set to graduate this spring showed off their skills and athletic abilities in front of the collection of scouts: offensive linemen Connor Hilland and Chris Durant, tight end Andrew Caskin, defensive tackle Isaiah Stephens and long snapper Jesse Anderson.
Judging off accomplishments alone, Hilland appears the most likely to be selected in the Draft. A four-year starter at left guard during his time in Williamsburg, Hilland received All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team honors following a senior season in which he started all 11 games. Hilland was also invited to participate in the East-West Shrine Game and the Tropical Bowl, two exhibition games designed to allow college players to compete in front of dozens of NFL and professional football scouts.
Along with Hilland, Durant is seeking to become the first Tribe offensive lineman selected in the NFL Draft since the Chicago Bears took Archie Harris ’87 with a seventh-round pick in 1987. Primarily a left tackle with the College, Durant earned All-CAA Third Team honors three straight seasons, doing so last season as a senior despite playing just six games. Durant and Hilland were members of a Tribe offensive line that helped produce a 1,000-yard rusher three out of their four seasons with the College, doing the dirty work that helped the likes of running backs Kendell Anderson ’17 and Mikal Abdul-Saboor ’16 shine.
Caskin made plenty highlight-worthy plays of his own during his collegiate career and could become the first former Tribe tight end to be drafted by an NFL team. Like Durant, Caskin was named to an All-CAA team in three consecutive seasons, totaling 86 catches for 868 yards and seven touchdowns in his four years with the College. A semifinalist for the 2017 Campbell Trophy, known as the “Academic Heisman,” Caskin was also invited to participate in a postseason event called the College Gridiron Showcase, which involved practices, a scrimmage and professional education seminars.
A two-time All-CAA Third Team selection, Stephens anchored the Tribe defensive line for several seasons, starting all but one game from his sophomore through his senior year. If drafted, Stephens will be following in the footsteps of former College standout Sean Lissemore ’10, a seventh-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 who played in 69 NFL games over six seasons in the league.
The Tribe’s starting long snapper for the entirety of his time at the College, Anderson became a fan favorite not only for his on-field skills, but also for his entertaining cameos on the scoreboard encouraging the Zable Stadium crowd to cheer. A long shot to make an NFL roster like most Tribe players, Anderson can nonetheless take solace in the fact that one former College player, Luke Rhodes ’16, has earned a full-time long snapping gig with the Indianapolis Colts. A very productive linebacker for the Tribe, Rhodes signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2016, but joined the Colts the following season and became the team’s starting long snapper.
Aside from Rhodes, only three former Tribe players have spots on an NFL roster: Chicago Bears safety DeAndre Houston-Carson ’16, New York Jets wide receiver Tre McBride ’15 and New York Giants cornerback B.W. Webb ’13. The odds may be against the likes of Hilland, Caskin and company to join the NFL ranks, but that should not stop them from pursuing their dreams of playing professional football and joining the exclusive fraternity of former College athletes who reached the NFL.