MORGANTOWN, W.Va — Wendell Smallwood’s 4.47 time at the NFL combine was faster than 15 of the 22 running backs who ran there.
Wasn’t fast enough for him, however.
So for 37 days Smallwood kept up his training with an eye toward running again.
At West Virginia’s pro day Monday, the junior running back posted a 4.4 according to the school’s chart. Smallwood heard more encouraging results from NFL onlookers, including Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose times showed 4.37 to 4.39.
“A lot of the scouts were hyped about how I ran,” he said. “I think it changed things. A lot of guys turned their heads because they didn’t know I was that fast.”
His 1,519 yards topped the Big 12 and ranked fourth-best in WVU single-season history despite Smallwood sacrificing breakaway burst upon injuring his ankle in Week 4 at Oklahoma. He still topped the 100-yard mark in six of the final nine games.
“Pills, shots—y’all don’t know what I had to go through with that all season,” he said.
“A lot of the scouts were hyped about how I ran. I think it changed things. A lot of guys turned their heads because they didn’t know I was that fast.” — Wendell Smallwood
Several reporters—and even some people in his own camp—questioned Smallwood about the risky decision to re-run the 40 after marking a sufficient time in Indianapolis. Many players, however, perform better amid the familiarity of their campuses, and Smallwood knew his own body was capable of more.
“I just know my ability and the highest peak I could reach, and I knew the combine wasn’t it.”
Along with flashing better speed, Smallwood increased his 225-pound bench press from 13 reps to 18—measurables he attributed to internal motivation.
“The training, you’ve got to come to work every day and nobody’s forcing you like they did here (in college),” he said. “Me having that self-discipline after the combine was big. I could’ve just relaxed but I kept bringing it and bringing it every day.”
After working out for several teams, Smallwood has scheduled upcoming visits that are more interview-based. It was a big deal meeting Bill Belichick and Tomlin, yet nothing felt more exciting than Philadelphia running backs coach Duce Staley.
“I grew up an Eagles fan, like 20 minutes from the stadium, and I used to play Duce Staley on the (video) game,” Smallwood said. “When I met him I wasn’t too excited on the outside, but then I got back in my room and I called my dad and said ‘I just talked to Duce Staley.’ I got kind of rushed.”
Three years ago, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and assistant JaJuan Seider praised Smallwood for rapidly absorbing the roles at running back and slot receiver. Now being quizzed on different packages each time he encounters a new GM or personnel director, Smallwood laughs at the feedback.
“They told me get Dana’s offense out of my head, because it’s not ever going to be that simple again.”
Watch Smallwood discuss his 40-yard dash, Pro Day performance: