By Megan Hart, video by Lukas Voss
A pop song blared through loudspeakers as over 100 grade-school kids took to a makeshift football field Wednesday in Chicago’s temporary Draft Town. Willa Cather Elementary School students participated in several minutes of drills before an emcee introduced a few special guests.
Twenty-five of the top prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft spent almost an hour tossing passes and teaching safe tackling to the kids in Grant Park as part of the NFL’s “Play 60” campaign, which encourages children to get 60 minutes of exercise a day.
It was one of the many activities for the prospects in conjunction with the draft, which moved from New York to Chicago this year and runs April 30 to May 2.
“It’s been a great experience,” Alabama safety Landon Collins said after the children left the field. “The draft is a once-in-a lifetime event.”
Collins, a Louisiana native, brought eight family members on his first trip to Chicago, where he might be the first safety selected in the draft. So far, he said, he’s enjoyed his time in the city, but there is one thing he wants to do before he leaves.
“I’m going to have to get some deep-dish pizza,” he said. “Lou Malnati’s, where is that?”
Florida State center Cameron Erving is also in Chicago for the first time. His favorite part of the draft experience has been spending time with the other prospects.
“Being around the guys has been great,” he said. “We all have competitive natures, but it’s not competitive now because our futures are already written.”
Erving, a Georgia native, said he plans to spend the next few days enjoying the city while sticking to the NFL’s strict schedule.
The prospects attended a welcome dinner Tuesday and a Wednesday morning breakfast with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. After the “Play 60” event, NFL spokesman Michael Signora said, the prospects were booked with interviews and community visits during much of their time before the Gold Carpet, Oscar-like festivities begin Thursday.
Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney said he doesn’t mind the busy schedule.
“I’m just enjoying it. … Wherever I need to be, I’m there,” he said.
The real highlight of this trip, of course, will be getting drafted.
“We’re all relaxed and just enjoying ourselves,” he said. “I think we’re all just happy to be in this position.”
McKinney, who has family in the area, had visited Chicago previously. Wisconsin running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon grew up just north of the Wisconsin border in Kenosha. In fact, he and Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes were Bradford High School teammates, and now both could be drafted in the first round Thursday.
“It’s been fun being close to home,” Gordon said. “I don’t know how it was in New York, but this has been perfect.”