Kyle Dugger’s time has arrived.
It didn’t take lengthy for any coach at Lenoir-Rhyne College to acknowledge Kyle Dugger as an NFL prospect. That was evident each time he stepped on the observe discipline. It was clear when a participant of his measurement returned each punt. You’re not supposed to maneuver like that once you’re 6-foot-2, 220 kilos.
The truth that a participant of his caliber was enjoying on the Division II stage was unusual, however not uncommon for a late bloomer. Dugger was hiding in plain sight of the NFL till March 2019.
That’s when Seattle Seahawks scout Ryan Florence traveled to Hickory, North Carolina. Within the NFL, most groups subscribe to 1 or two scouting companies – BLESTO or Nationwide Soccer Scouting. It’s as much as the scouts to measure and time underclassmen a 12 months earlier than they’re eligible for the draft after which add the knowledge to the web site.
Florence measured Dugger’s arms, top and weight for the NFS service. For a security, Dugger’s wingspan (78.5 inches) was extraordinary. Then he had him run the 40-yard sprint. Then once more. And once more. Florence seemed on the watch and again at Dugger. That was the second he knew that this child from Decatur, Georgia, was particular.
That is additionally how Dugger obtained on the radar for the Senior Bowl and NFL Mix.
That spring, Jim Nagy, the manager director of the Senior Bowl, was within the means of figuring out gamers for the following school all-star sport, which options prospects for the upcoming draft. Nagy scouted within the NFL for 18 seasons, together with for the Patriots.
Nagy labored with Florence in Seattle and known as to ask about Dugger after an agent tipped him off.
Florence instructed him he timed Dugger 3 times and the stopwatch learn 4.41, 4.45 and 4.5.
“He actually favored him,” Nagy stated. “And he had him as quick as 4.41. Properly, now he goes from being a extremely good Division II participant to being a legit professional prospect. If you’re speaking a couple of child that is 6-2, 220 kilos, that is flying.”
Dugger’s life modified on that day. As quickly as Florence uploaded his report, the Division II security was on the NFL’s radar. Quickly, he’d be coveted by Invoice Belichick and the Patriots.
When David Cole first laid eyes on Dugger, he noticed the potential. It was in 2016, and the underclassman was nonetheless rising into his physique. He did issues on the observe discipline that had been uncommon on the Division II stage. The explanation Dugger wasn’t in Division I used to be as a result of he was a late bloomer. He was 5-foot-9 as a junior at Whitewater Excessive College however grew to six ft as a senior. He added two extra inches in school.
Cole was Lenoir-Rhyne’s secondary and special-teams coach on the time. He had beforehand coached seven NFL gamers as an assistant at California (Pa.) College and did an internship with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013. He noticed a future NFL participant in Dugger. He set out a plan to make Dugger the primary participant drafted from Lenoir-Rhyne in 20 years.
First, Cole needed to persuade Dugger to modify from cornerback to security – after he was named the convention Defensive Freshman of the 12 months.
“I needed to speak him into being a security as a result of he fancied himself the following Jalen Ramsey,” stated Cole, who’s now at Mercer. “We simply talked about making that transfer that may be the perfect to get him to the following stage. … We actually simply talked about refining the abilities, footwork, being extra aggressive, being a greater open-field tackler, and turning into extra of a scholar of the sport and loving it.”
Two years later, Drew Cronic took over as Lenoir-Rhyne’s coach. He knew Dugger when he was a scholar at Whitewater. Cronic was an assistant at Reinhardt College and recruited Dugger to the NAIA college, however misplaced him to Lenoir-Rhyne. These had been the one affords Dugger had.
When Cronic took the brand new job in 2018, he heard the tales about Dugger. There have been moments within the secondary that defied logic. There have been instances in observe he’d hit somebody so laborious, he’d knock a teammate out for the day. Then there have been the punt returns. At his measurement, Dugger’s returns had been legendary.
“(After I recruited him), he was most likely 6-foot, 185 kilos,” stated Cronic, who now coaches at Mercer. “After I noticed him once more, he was 218-220 (kilos), and he seemed like he belonged at Clemson or Alabama. Then they begin speaking about him returning punts. I am going, ‘OK, no matter, a 218-pound man returning punts.’ Then I watched movie on it. And I obtained to see it stay and in shade that fall … and I used to be a believer.”
The NFL quickly was as effectively.
All the fitting issues
Lenoir-Rhyne was a preferred vacation spot for NFL groups within the fall of 2019.
After Dugger’s instances had been posted, NFL groups raced to Hickory to see him. There have been an estimated 10 scouts a day at observe. Entrance workplace personnel got here to video games. The Carolina Panthers’ basic supervisor visited. The Buffalo Payments had been there greater than anybody.
“That fall was loopy. All NFL groups got here to observe,” Cole stated. “That does not occur at loads of smaller collegiate packages. It was simply neat. It was a time to all the time keep in mind, you understand, but it surely was undoubtedly loopy.”
“It was the traditional means of scouts checking in on us. We clearly had been fairly excessive on Kyle they usually’d get a little bit movie,” Cronic added. “Then one staff comes a few instances and it blows up. All the blokes can share data. By that fall, each staff within the Nationwide Soccer League got here by.”
Dugger was named the Division II defensive participant of the 12 months final season, but it surely was how he dealt with himself that fall that actually impressed these round him. Scouts had been on him on daily basis. He was bombarded with calls from NFL brokers. It was disturbing, however Dugger dealt with it like knowledgeable.
When gamers had been coming off the observe discipline, he stayed ultimately zone to work on his approach. He was the primary participant within the assembly room and stored copious notes in a black pocket book. He was the primary particular person to lift his hand. He took teaching and didn’t get down when a coach ripped into him.
There was no baggage right here. He took care of his physique, was cautious in what he ate and when the weekends got here, he often stayed inside to look at films.
“He simply stayed away from the incorrect issues, and he absorbed data effectively, very clever,” Cronic stated. “All of the items sort of lined up. When you noticed a child like that at a Division II college, you’ll assume he was switch that got here from an enormous college as a result of he has issues.”
Last testing floor
The Patriots earmarked Dugger as a possible draft decide within the spring of 2019. That fall, they despatched scouts on a number of events to Hickory to get a better look. By the point January got here, they noticed Dugger play in a number of video games.
Nonetheless, they wanted extra.
That’s the place the 2020 Senior Bowl got here in. It wasn’t simply the sport on Jan. 25, throughout which Dugger made a game-high seven tackles, however the week earlier than in observe. That’s the place they noticed the security go up in opposition to high Division I gamers.
“I knew he would stack up bodily with the blokes right here. And I knew he would stack up athletically,” stated Nagy. “What you by no means know with the small college guys is how they are going to step up in opposition to competitors, simply from a mindset standpoint. … Some guys are wide-eyed. Some guys, they get down right here and it is a little bit too large for them. They do not have that self-belief. They do not have that self-confidence, and it reveals, and it reveals on the observe discipline.
“With Kyle you noticed it the primary day, like this was not going to be too large for him in any respect. He is a assured man. He got here down right here able to compete.”
Dugger placed on a present in entrance of Belichick, Nick Caserio and different scouts. Even earlier than the NFL Mix, the place Dugger shined, the Patriots had sufficient data to place him excessive on their draft board. After they chosen him with the 37th total decide, Belichick and Caserio famous how essential it was for them to see Dugger carry out effectively on the Senior Bowl.
The second wasn’t too large then. It’s not now.
Dugger is already enjoying significant snaps as a rookie for the Patriots. He’s doing this after enjoying Division II soccer and having a shortened offseason with no preseason video games.
“He by no means shied away from something as a result of that is what he needed,” Cole stated. “From the day I met Kyle Dugger, we talked about this and attempting to attain it. He was actually prepared for this second.”
Kyle Dugger’s time has arrived.