WORCESTER – Benton Whitley and Tenio Ayeni returned to the Holy Cross football team for a fifth season in 2021, and both played major roles in helping the Crusaders win a third consecutive Patriot League title while continuing their personal development and pushing towards their goal of playing professionally.
On Tuesday, Whitley and Ayeni were among 13 NFL prospects who worked for scouts at HC’s Pro Day, held at Luth Athletic Complex. Representatives from 22 professional teams watched the prospects perform the bench press, vertical jump, 40-yard dash, shuttle run and other combination tests, as well as positioning drills.
“There are always nerves,” said Whitley, HC’s star defensive end who was a three-time All-Patriot League First-Team selection, “but it’s more excited nerves. I was excited to get out here and show people what I can do and yeah it was a good day.
Assumption running back Khaleed Exum-Strong and tight end Tighe Beck, and defensive end Anna Maria Jude Sampson also participated in the pro day. In addition to testing, Ayeni, one of HC’s top wide receivers, ran routes and caught passes from Brown quarterback EJ Perry, who was one of the star participants.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking,” Ayeni said, “but the nerves make you a bit more focused. I was happy with my numbers, but you’re still going to keep working.
The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Whitley, who totaled 43 tackles, including 9 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 6 quarterback rushes and a forced fumble last season, played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Pasadena January 29. He’s spent the last 2-1/2 months training in Colorado in preparation for the pro day.
After his tests, Whitley performed some positioning drills under the watchful eye of Leon Lett, the former Cowboys defensive lineman who is now Dallas’ assistant defensive line coach. Afterwards, Whitley and Lett had a conversation.
“He looked at my film and asked me what I had done in the field,” Whitley said. “A lot of what I did had a lot to do with the chemistry I had with (linebackers) Jacob Dobbs and Liam Anderson. We just had really good chemistry and it all worked out, so I gave him some credit. just talked. It was good.”
Prior to last season, former Holy Cross defensive line coach Mike Pucko called Whitley “the real deal,” a player with NFL aspirations and ability.
Whitley said Pucko played a major role in his development.
“When he walked into the room,” Whitley said, “he brought a lot of morale into the room. He brought us together as a unit and upped my game. Pucko was huge.
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Ayeni missed the 2021 spring season with a shoulder injury but made the most of his time on the sidelines by doing mental reps and becoming one of the leaders from HC last fall.
Ayeni had 27 receptions for 379 yards and five touchdowns in 2021. As a junior, he had 43 catches for 568 yards and four touchdowns.
Ayeni trained at Exceed Sports Performance & Fitness in Westborough. There he practiced with Beck and Harvard running back Aaron Shampklin, who also practiced on the pro day.
A number of Holy Cross players watched the prospects do the bench press and vertical jump at the Carol & Park B. Smith ’54 Sports Performance Center, and performed the 40s and other field tests at the facility. indoor training.
“For our team to visualize and feel that one day their opportunity is possible is something that we are all very proud and excited about,” said Holy Cross coach Bob Chesney. “It’s cool to see our two guys here getting a chance to perform and do their thing. It’s a great day for our program.
Among those present was former Holy Cross wide receiver and return specialist Kalif Raymond, who recently completed his sixth NFL season and had planned a visit to Holy Cross this week.
In 2021 with the Detroit Lions, Raymond set career highs with 48 receptions and 576 yards and scored four touchdowns. Last week, he signed a new two-year contract with the Lions. Raymond originally entered the league with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent.
“Having him here,” Chesney said, “and for these guys to see him here and see him in real life — he’s living the dream that a lot of these guys hope to have one day — makes it even more real. He been there and he continues to live it.
Contact Jennifer Toland at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @JenTolandTG.