Fifty-five players came to the CFL Combine with something to prove, but Hamilton, ON. native Michael DiCroce may have had a little more to prove than the other 54.
Unlike most other draft eligible players, DiCroce's senior season of university football wasn't spent sprinting, catching, learning and developing- it was spent on the sidelines, forced there by a broken bone in his foot – an injury sustained on just the second day of training camp.
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"I was very disappointed, very devastated," said DiCroce, a former McMaster Marauder. "I was feeling the best I've ever felt going into training camp so to have that happen…. It just hurt. It broke my heart."
Though he recovered from the injury in time to return for the playoffs, including an appearance in the Vanier Cup, the damage to his draft stock lingered.
He failed to make it onto the CFL Scouting Bureau's list of top 15 prospects heading into the 2013 draft, a list he no doubt would've been a shoe-in for a year earlier after a dominant season in which he lead the CIS in receiving yards, won a Vanier Cup, earned OUA MVP honours and got nominated for the prestigious Hec Crighton Award.
"I really didn't think I was going to get an invite [to the combine] just because of that injury," said DiCroce. "Everyone said 'he's not going to bounce back from this, he's not going to move as well.' I took that as a challenge."
He poured all of his energy into a daily regimen that included physiotherapy, pool workouts and strengthening exercises, in addition to his regular workouts.
His efforts paid off, earning him a combine invite, and when he walked into Toronto's Park Hyatt hotel on Friday night - two days of testing ahead - he knew what he had to prove.
"A lot of scouts aren't sure if I'm fully recovered or 100 per cent. I've told them that I am so they want to see me in action and see that I'm ready to go," said DiCroce.
One of those scouts, Hamilton Tiger-Cats Director of Canadian Scouting Drew Allemang, said that although DiCroce's current health wasn't a prime concern, he was looking to see how the broken foot had impacted the receiver's quickness.
"We're looking to see what he runs in the 40. We want to see speed and see how well he's recovered from his injury," said Allemang.
Day 1 of the combine saw the sociology major record two of his best ever jumps – a 37.50" vertical and a 9'8" broad – but he failed to impress in the bench press, recording just nine reps.
"I wasn't happy with my bench press. I was a bit nervous," said DiCroce. "I got nine and was shooting for double digits. I'm not going to be too upset about that. I'll move on to the next events."
The second and final day of testing was when DiCroce hoped to shine. Admittedly not a great tester, it was in the 40-yard dash he hoped to prove his speed; the 1-on-1's, his competitiveness.
And he did.
His 40 time was 4.583, a new personal best, good enough for top five on the day.
His 1-on-1's earned him hoots, hollers and applause from those gathered - thrilled by his flash, speed and great hands - but more importantly, it earned him approval from the scouts, including Allemang.
"He did really well. He hit that speed he needed to hit," said Allemang. "He showed his quickness and his ability to run good routes and separate from people. I wouldn't say there were too many kids who really helped themselves or showed different things than we already knew but I think he's someone that helped himself today for sure."
When it was all over- the final route of the weekend, run - DiCroce's contentment was obvious. The massive grin on his face gave him away.
"I'm so happy that I came out here and showed them that I am fully recovered and fully ready to compete at a high level so hopefully they give me a chance to do that," said DiCroce.
BC Lions head coach Mike Benevides has little doubt someone will.
"We interviewed Michael and he's a very, very sharp individual. He's mature. He understands what's required of him and he's well-spoken so when you take a look at the entire package he's got a lot to offer," said Benevides. "I think based on what I've seen on tape and what I saw at his interview I think he's going to do very well."
John Hufnagel, head coach and general manager of the Calgary Stampeders, agrees.
"I think he's a young man that has a great opportunity to have a nice future in the Canadian Football League," said Hufnagel.
Which team gives him that opportunity won't be known until draft day - May 6.
Until then he'll do the same thing that earned him the invite in the first place- hit the gym, over and over and over again.
"It's been a long, grueling road," said DiCroce. "But I'm happy to be back."