MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For West Virginia’s most well-known NFL Draft prospects, Pro Day was an opportunity to expand upon what scouts, coaches and general managers had already learned at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine. But for players like Kenny Bigelow, it was the only chance to shine.
The defensive lineman wasn’t invited to Senior Bowl or the combine. If he tested poorly on Thursday, he might not get another chance to prove he could play in the NFL.
“I knew [Pro Day] was honestly going to make or break me,” Bigelow said. “Not having the chance to go to the combine was something that I took personally. I wasn’t angry about it, but I knew I had to go out here and perform.”
An iffy Pro Day isn’t necessarily fatal to every player’s dream. In Bigelow’s case, however, the event was made all the more important by his lack of game tape compared to his peers. Two entire seasons of his career were wiped out by preseason knee injuries at USC. Heading into this season, he had played a total of 15 plays since 2015 and even announced he was retiring from the game before he was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
“[This is] the biggest interview of my life. I had to leave it on the field,” Bigelow said. “I couldn’t be sore. I couldn’t be tired. I had to leave it on the field for the full however long we were out here.”
The chance to get on the field brought him to West Virginia as a graduate transfer. It didn’t matter that he had been a 4-3 defensive tackle at USC and would be asked to play the nose in Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 defense. Learning something new was better than seeing his career wash away.
“I wasn’t a [nose tackle] coming in, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t let go to waste,” Bigelow said. “I think that’s a mindset I’m going to carry for the rest of my life. Take whatever happens, and make it yours.”
Bigelow finished the year with 20 tackles, but coaches knew what they were looking at beyond the stats. He was named to the all-Big 12 second team and was the league’s defensive newcomer of the year.
Nevertheless, there was still plenty to prove on Thursday. He did that right off the bat, opening his day with 31 reps on the bench press. That total would have tied him for fourth among defensive linemen at the combine.
Bigelow also demonstrated speed for a 307-pound human, running the 40-yard dash in 5.09 seconds.
“I saw some guys looking down at the [stopwatch] shaking their heads,” Bigelow said. “So I feel like that had to be a good thing.”
Bigelow viewed his performance the same way he viewed his lone season as a Mountaineer — as a triumph.
“There’s pressure. But pressure makes diamonds,” Bigelow said. “I wasn’t too worried about it. But it’s something we’re bred to do in West Virginia. I’m used to having the eyes on me. I have a lot of people I had to prove right or prove wrong, and I wanted to make sure I went out here and did that.”
Bigelow found it especially appropriate that Pro Day marked one year since he made his first visit to West Virginia. In the time between those bookends, his went from a player desperate for one more chance to proving he still might make it at the next level.
“I thank West Virginia for providing me with the opportunity to prove my talents,” Bigelow said. “I wouldn’t have had this opportunity a year ago without West Virginia.”