Athletes participating in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis are working to be as physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for a potential transition to the pros.
During podium sessions over the past several days, a number of them have pointed to family members who have helped them get to where they are today.
Denzel Ward (Ohio State), considered this year's top cornerback by NFL Media analysts Bucky Brooks and Mike Mayock heading into the combine, will be thinking of his father when he participates in on-field skills testing at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday.
Ward's performance in the vertical jump will have a bearing on more than just his football ability.
He is jumping to support a scholarship fund in the name of his father, who passed away unexpectedly from cardiac arrest at the age of 46. Ward started the "Inches for Education" fund in memory of his father, who was a principal, and people can donate a certain amount of money per inch.
Ward told media members that it was extremely important to him to honor his father in this way.
"My father was a role model in my life, and somebody that I really looked up to," Ward said. "It was very difficult when my dad passed away, so I wanted to do something to honor [him]. I know he would enjoy seeing me here."
He later added with a laugh: "I plan to jump very high."
When asked about advice from his father that has stuck with him, Ward was quick to answer.
"Always be honest," Ward said. "Always be honest with whoever you come in contact with."
Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver – ranked by both Brooks and Mayock as fourth-best in his position group – also spoke about his father on Sunday. Muhammad Oliver, who also played cornerback, spent time with multiple NFL teams from 1992-95.
"This whole journey, he's been right there by my side through the process of declaring early and things like that. I've always had him and been able to turn to him for advice," said Oliver, who said he's met several of his father's former teammates and learned from them, as well.
Oliver said he appreciated having his father coaching him growing up, from Pop Warner to high school.
"He was always a guy that was coaching me in track and football," Oliver said. "So, that was big for me, and he still does it to this day. Not as much obviously, but yeah, I can still ask him questions about the game of football."
And as for the best advice he's received from his father? Oliver said it goes beyond the football field.
"In life in general, something he's always taught me and ingrained in me was, 'Once you start something, always finish it.' So, that's something that I've taken along through my entire life now," Oliver said. "Just making sure that everything I do I just do it with 100 percent effort and do it the best I can and always finish what I start."
Here are some other highlights from media sessions with cornerback prospects:
Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Pre-combine draft rankings:Brooks 1, Mayock 1
Before hitting the on-field drills Monday, Ward participated in the bench press on Sunday and lifted 225 pound 16 times. When asked if there was anything people would find surprising from him during the skills testing, Ward instead pointed back to the bench.
"I would say I definitely kind of surprised people with my bench press today," Ward said. "But [Monday], [in] the 40 – because I think people already know that I'm kind of fast; they just don't know exactly how fast. That's what I plan to show tomorrow."
Josh Jackson, Iowa
Pre-combine draft rankings:Brooks 3, Mayock 2
Jackson played at the University of Iowa with safety Desmond King, who played in 16 games as a rookie for the Chargers in 2017, and said he's learned a lot from his former teammate.
"[I watched the] way he prepared. The way he came out to practice," Jackson said. "He was always a guy who was going to give it his all. He was a ball-hawk, and I loved the way he'd be able to guard receivers to be able to go take the ball from them. So that's one thing I tried to implement in my game."
Jackson, who declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season, was only a one-year starter at Iowa, but he impressed time and time again, snagging five interceptions over a two-week time frame.
When asked what he tells teams that ask him about limited starting experience, Jackson responded that he "told them I played behind some really good players" before becoming a starter himself.
"I played in the nickel my first two years as a freshman and sophomore," Jackson said. "I had the opportunity this year, and I just wanted to come out and show I'm ready to play and show we didn't lose a step on the back end."
Mike Hughes, Central Florida
Pre-combine draft rankings:Brooks 2, Mayock 3
Most media interviews revolve around the player at the podium, but Hughes was happy to answer questions about his UCF teammate, linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who broke the 40-yard dash record for his position group on Sunday.
Hughes said he was "so happy" for Griffin but wasn't surprised by his speed.
"I knew what he was going to run. We talked about it the night before," Hughes said. "So when he did it, he was trending on my Twitter, but I actually told everybody the night before to stay tuned on what he was going to run. The time that he posted wasn't surprising to me."
And as far as his own playing style? When asked directly, "What is your game all about?" Hughes didn't hesitate.
"My game's all about playing fast and winning. I love to win, man," Hughes said. "I'm very passionate about the game, so winning means a lot to me, and playing and just having fun. That's the ultimate goal at the end of the day – just to have fun. Having fun with the game builds a lot of confidence, and I think that's what made us successful this year. Our confidence was through the roof. So just going out there and playing as a unit, as a family, and just having fun."
Jaire Alexander, Louisville
Pre-combine draft rankings:Brooks 5, Mayock 5
When asked if anything about the combine process has been "surprising," Alexander said he had been so prepped for long hours that he actually didn't find the days to be too taxing.
"Prior to coming to the combine, I was told that the days would be long. They are pretty long, but it's not as bad as I was told it could be," Alexander said. "It's kind of what you make of it. So it's been a pretty good experience."
Added Alexander: "I could have been at home watching the combine, so it feels good to be here."
When asked what drives him to be a leader on the field and to strive for excellence, Alexander said he never wants to be a failure or even considered "average."
"I'm a competitor," Alexander said. "I don't like to lose, so that's a big part of my game – competing, playing hard, so I know that none of that will be an issue."