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Utah State football standouts head to NFL Combine this weekend

First Published Feb 20 2014 07:16 pm • Last Updated Feb 21 2014 08:01 pm

Tyler Larsen has spent nearly two months preparing for one of the most important tests of his life.

He’ll be measured, timed and scrutinized for weaknesses. Hundreds of eyes will follow him as he gets a few seconds to show his athletic ability, and those impressions will go a long way to deciding if he can get drafted into the National Football League in May.

At a glance

Aggies at the NFL Combine

Utah State is sending a program-record four players to the NFL Combine. A look at each:

Tyler Larsen, OL » started 52 straight games at center, three-time first team all-conference, USA Today All-American, Senior Bowl participant

Nevin Lawson, DB » 57 tackes, 13 pass break-ups, 4 interceptions, honorable mention All-American by College Sports Madness, East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl participant

Maurice Alexander, DB »  80 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 FF, honorable mention All-Mountain West

D.J. Tialavea, TE/FB » 17 receptions for 93 yards and three touchdowns in six games before injury

Watch the NFL Combine

The Combine will be presented on NFL Network (Comcast 270, Dish Network 154, DirecTV 212) beginning at 7 a.m. MST on each day of coverage.

Saturday » Offensive linemen, tight ends, kickers

Sunday » Running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers

Monday » Linebackers, defensive linemen

Tuesday » Defensive backs

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Larsen, a three-time all-conference center at Utah State, knows this weekend’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis will be stressful and demanding. But he also knows there will be a few familiar faces — three of his Utah State teammates are headed there as well.

"It means a lot," he said. "Knowing that I’ve sweat with them, I’ve bled with them, I’ve cried with them. It’s amazing that we have the same goal, and we’re all going to be here."

For the first time in program history, the Aggies are sending four pro prospects to the NFL Combine: Larsen, cornerback Nevin Lawson, tight end D.J. Tialavea and safety Maurice Alexander. The quartet represents the most successful senior class ever at Utah State, winners of 31 games in four years.

Utah State coach Matt Wells knows getting more players to the Combine each year can be a powerful statement for the program, as well as for the players who helped build it.

"Well I think it’s a direct reflection of the players, how hard they worked, how talented they are," he said. "I think what having winning program does is brings recognition to the program first. But our guys get exposed at an even greater visibility, and more people can see what kind of players they are."

With their college legacy secure, the focus shifts to the next level for more than a dozen Aggies, including the four who will be under the scrutiny of NFL scouts this weekend at the Combine. Succeeding there could fast track an NFL career, and just getting there is an honor.

Alexander was one of the last ones to get an invite, which he called being "on the bubble." His agent told him to keep working out in case he got the call. He did.

For Alexander, especially — he spent a year out of the program before his senior season — going to the Combine represents a big step in his ultimate goal to play pro football.

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"I never thought that it wouldn’t happen for me," he said. "I just stuck to the plan. I never gave up. I did whatever I needed to do to get back. I knew I was going to work hard and be in the best position I needed to be. It was blessing overall."

The Utah State prospects enter the Combine looking to show different skill sets, and looking to prove different things.

Lawson, for example, is shorter than many top corners, but his quickness and top-end speed in the 40-yard dash will be critical to show scouts he can cover slot receivers at the next level. Larsen, on the other hand, won’t sweat as much about his 40 time, but he’ll need to prove his footwork is NFL-caliber.

"There’s a couple position drills I’ll need to do well in," he said. "I’ll be making sure I can keep my feet under me, and I’ll have to move in space and make sure I look like an athlete."

Alexander is more limited coming off of wrist surgery, but he’ll be able to showcase how fast and agile he can be at the strong safety position after almost two months of training at California Strength. With a 6-foot-2 frame, Alexander’s size isn’t a question, but he’ll be looking to run a 4.5 40 time or faster, and he’ll want to be sure-footed in defensive back drills with only one year of experience as a safety.

Interviews may also help sell all the prospects. Alexander said its one area in which he really hopes to shine.

"I want them to see my effort and my attitude," he said. "It’s gonna be great. I believe scouts will love to see a guy who gives his all."

At least one Aggie will be pouring almost all of his focus into the 1-on-1 interviews. Tialavea is still coming back from a foot fracture that ended his senior season, and he’ll take most of the drills at Utah State Pro Day next month after training in Chicago for six more weeks. But in Indianapolis, Tialavea will put his best face forward to interviewers wondering how he’ll bounce back.

Tialavea said his agent has told him to prepare as both a tight end and a fullback, which he’s fully committed to do. He wants to prove to NFL teams that he’ll fill whatever role he can fill to get on the field.

"Whatever my agent says I need to do, I’ll do. I’m here to play football," he said. "I’m not nervous, I feel confident in who I am. I think I have the right mindset."

The battery of examinations, both physical and mental, can wear prospects down. NFL hopefuls spend hours and hours every day in rigorous physical training that can get repetitive. Even after the Combine, the training won’t stop until Pro Day.

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