By Alaa Abdeldaiem | @Abdeldaiem_Alaa
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — There was a moment in Connor McGovern’s mind when the three-year starting offensive lineman from Missouri thought he wouldn’t be ready for this week’s National Football League Scouting Combine.
It was the first day of drills preparing for a Senior Bowl experience late last month. Although he started at left tackle during his final season, McGovern was looking forward to moving back inside at right guard, a role he had embraced for two seasons.
But McGovern wouldn’t get the chance. A few plays into one-on-one drills, McGovern’s foot got caught on the turf. Three steps was all it took for him to notice something wasn’t right. The diagnosis: a grade-one left hamstring strain.
McGovern couldn’t help from letting his mind race for the first few days that ensued. He was disappointed. Worried. Doubtful.
“I was really disappointed,” McGovern said. “I was looking at the Senior Bowl as an opportunity to prove myself once again at guard, and for the first few days, I questioned whether or not I would be ready to do it at the Combine. I was worried for a bit.”
As soon as his fear emerged, however, it diminished.
“I realized that worrying about it wasn’t going to do anything,” McGovern said. “I put it in my mind that I wanted to be here, so I focused on that.”
And here he is indeed.
Ranked ninth at his position by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, McGovern is widely recognized as one of the strongest players in college football.
The former Missouri Tiger broke a school record with six squats carrying 690 pounds and outstanding strength. At 6 feet, 4 inches and 305 pounds, it wouldn’t come off as a shock if McGovern came out of the combine meeting his 225 bench press goal of 40 or more repetitions.
The 2016 prospect credits his success in the weight room to a father with experience in bodybuilding, one who pushed him from the very beginning.
“My dad just gets it,” McGovern said. “He’s been a huge part of my game, the knowledge he’s given me in the weight room and the work ethic he helped build in me. It’s awesome to have him there and share these moments with him.”
McGovern’s athleticism isn’t just limited to success in the weight room. Growing up competing in a variety of sports helped McGovern embrace all aspects of the game, and after playing right guard and right tackle his first two years as a starter, McGovern was able to finish his senior season at Mizzou as a left tackle.
“My strength is my athleticism, and I hope that I can use my versatility to shine this week,” McGovern said. “It’s a huge benefit for me to be able to play in different places. Teams only travel seven, so it’s big that if they need a guy who can snap, play guard and tackle, I can do all three.”
McGovern’s versatility isn’t limited to just the physical sense, either.
His Tigers endured a dismal 5-7 record last season, one that will likely be identified by quarterback Maty Mauk’s frequent suspensions, a player boycott in response to escalating racial tension on campus and 14-year coach Gary Pinkel’s sudden resignation.
McGovern said the difficult season was a learning experience coming into this week.
“Our team faced a lot of adversity last year,” McGovern said. “Scouts will ask you how you responded to situations like that, and it’s a good thing to show that you can keep a good mentality through that.”
It’s a similar mentality that helped McGovern bounce back from last month’s injury, one that could have very easily kept him from workouts this week.
The Senior Bowl may not have been his time to shine, but with help from former Missouri teammates like Mitch Morse of the Kansas City Chiefs, the 49th overall selection in the second round in the 2015 draft, McGovern hopes to use the Combine to do just that.
“I don’t look stuff up or pay attention to any of the rankings,” McGovern said. “It’s not every day that a kid from North Dakota gets to come up here, so all I’m focused on is doing my absolute best.”