Dan Connolly is expected to become Southeast Missouri State University's third National Football League draft choice in the past three years -- and he'll have a golden opportunity to improve his stock.
Connolly, a senior offensive tackle who was a four-year starter for Southeast, recently was invited to the annual NFL Scouting Combine that will take place in late February in Indianapolis.
More than 300 of the nation's top NFL prospects will gather for the weeklong event that includes a battery of physical and mental tests in front of NFL scouts, coaches and front office personnel.
"It's really exciting," Connolly said. "I never expected to be invited. I'd been told by a few people that I had a good shot, but never in my dreams did I think somebody from SEMO would be invited to something like this."
And the NFL Scouting Combine is not the only major event that Connolly has coming up in the near future.
During the season, Connolly was selected to play in the Las Vegas All-American Classic on Jan. 22. The game is one of several postseason all-star contests for senior NFL prospects.
"I thought this all-star game in a couple of weeks would be my only opportunity to get exposure, then the combine thing came up," Connolly said. "I've been lifting weights, doing some running, staying in football shape. I know these two events will be really important for me."
Connolly, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound native of St. Louis, graded out at 98 percent on pass plays and 95 percent on running plays this past season, although he was only selected to the all-Ohio Valley Conference second team. He made second-team all-OVC during each of his four years at Southeast.
Connolly, who said he projects to play either guard or center in the professional ranks, is trying to follow in the footsteps of Southeast's last two draft choices who are currently playing in the NFL: Eugene Amano and Willie Ponder.
Amano, a rookie center with the Tennessee Titans, was taken in the seventh and final round of the 2004 draft. He recently earned his first NFL start.
Ponder, a second-year wide receiver/return man with the New York Giants, went in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. He currently leads the NFL in kickoff returns.
"Seeing what Eugene and Willie are doing, it's great for the program," Connolly said. "Hopefully, I'll be the next one."
Connolly has heard various things regarding the 2005 NFL draft in April, but he's trying not to think too much about what might happen. Instead, he'll focus on helping his cause in the all-star game and at the combine.
"I've had a few teams tell me they've got me slated as a third-round pick, but they probably tell a few people that," Connolly said. "I know Eugene was told that last year and he got taken in the seventh round.
"You never know until the actual day of the draft. So I'll just have to wait and see what happens."