LOS ANGELES -- USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil is almost a certain top-five pick in the upcoming NFL draft, and the 6-foot-7, 306-pound redshirt junior said the road to the professional ranks runs all the way back to his youth, playing football in the park with his older brother, Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil, and his father.
At least, they called it football.
"It's kind of weird when you have a father and sons at the park and they aren't playing catch with a baseball or football," said Kalil's father, Frank Kalil, who played college football at Arkansas and Arizona before joining the USFL. "Instead, we're out there doing kick steps and down steps and pull steps, working on hand-placement drills."
If Matt Kalil had had his way, he certainly wouldn't be preparing for the NFL draft right now, and USC fans likely would never have heard of him.
"He wanted to play quarterback," Frank Kalil said. "I told him I don't teach quarterbacks. Don't ever ask him to throw the ball to you, because you might have a different interview."
During Wednesday's pro day at USC, Kalil did not participate in any testing, opting to stick with his combine results -- notably a 4.99 40-yard dash and 30 reps on the bench press. He did go through position drills and said he couldn't help but think back to his time spent at the park.
"These drills come easy to me because I've been doing them my whole life," Kalil said. "It's kind of second nature to me."
As if the drills at the park didn't give Kalil enough of a head start, he said his father and brother have been instrumental in his success in dealing with the path to the draft. So much of the draft process can be mentally draining, but Kalil has approached everything with the confidence of someone who has gone though it before.
He admitted to the experience at the combine being eye-opening, but said the preparation he received from his older brother helped put him at ease. He knew what to expect with the testing and wasn't caught off guard by any of the occasionally shocking questions asked by teams during the interview process.
With two big workouts in the books, Kalil said he has begun thinking about draft day. He will be in New York for the festivities and plans to bring his former head coach along with him for the event.
"(Lane) Kiffin is coming down and going to be back in the green room with me," Kalil said. "He's helped me a lot as a coach since he's been here, so I owe him that, to invite him to New York to celebrate with me."
Kalil said he's not worried about where experts have him slotted or which team might call his name.
"Wherever I go, I'm going to be happy," Kalil said. "I'm just going to do whatever I can to help the team."
Ellison finds a new routine
There is a reason Rhett Ellison earned the nickname "The Machine" while at USC. Like clockwork, he was the first one in and the last one out, virtually every day of every year. It would be difficult to find a player who worked harder or prepared more than Ellison, who developed a daily routine and hardly ever wavered.
But preparing for the tests and drills at the NFL combine and USC's pro day aren't the same as gearing up for a Pac-12 conference game, so Ellison has been thrown for a bit of a loop these past few months. Instead of worrying about blocking assignments and third-down tendencies of opposing defenses, it has been sprinter's stances and hip flexibility drills that have received most of his attention.
"It's been crazy," Ellison said of preparing for his NFL auditions. "I just can't wait to get focused on football again. I just had to get a different routine. It's not the routine I like because it's not preparing for a football game, but it's something you have to do."
Perhaps the biggest curveball for Ellison came at the NFL combine, where he was registered as a fullback and put through all the running back drills. He ran a 4.88 40-yard dash and measured in at 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds. He also shared a few laughs during each team meeting when he walked through the door as a running back.
"Everyone was kind of laughing and asking what I was doing with the running backs," Ellison said. "I don't know how it happened that I was with them, but it did. All the teams are talking to me as a tight end."
Ellison took part in testing as well as position drills on Wednesday and said he was pleased with his overall performance. He commented on the pressure that comes with an event like this, but then illustrated yet again why he's called The Machine.
"This is just phase one," Ellison said. "Then there's phase two [being drafted/signing] and phase three [making the team]. So I'm just at phase one right now."
Pro day notes
Sixteen members of USC's 2011 football team participated in pro day: wide receiver Brandon Carswell, offensive lineman Martin Coleman, Ellison, linebacker Chris Galippo, cornerback James Harbin, defensive tackle DaJohn Harris, linebacker Shane Horton, safety Marshall Jones, Kalil, cornerback Allen Noble, defensive end Nick Perry, long snapper Chris Pousson, cornerback Boomer Roepke, defensive tackle Christian Tupou, tailback Marc Tyler and offensive tackle Peter Yobo. Additionally six former Trojans also took part: cornerback Cary Harris, safety Kevin Ellison, linebacker Nick Garratt, safety Josh Pinkard, defensive lineman LaJuan Ramsey and defensive lineman Derek Simmons. Former Trojans Brandon Hancock and Bernard Riley were also in attendance.
Carswell turned in easily the fastest 40-yard dash time of the day, as he clocked in unofficially at 4.46 seconds. It wasn't exactly a blazing group, as the knock on many of the players who participated -- Tyler, Galippo, Jones, Tupou -- has always been their speed.
It should be very interesting to watch Ellison as he heads into the draft. Last year, former USC tight end Jordan Cameron was selected with the first pick of the fourth round. Ellison represents almost the polar opposite of Cameron. Where Cameron was a standout at the combine for his position and was known as an athletic, pass-catching tight end with plenty of raw potential, Ellison is a grinder with tons of experience who won't exactly wow with his athletic ability. It will be interesting to see if that "gamer" label Ellison has more than earned does him any favors in the draft.
It's scary to think that Perry will be labeled as a small defensive end in the NFL, but there has been plenty of talk about giving him a look at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the next level. On Wednesday, Perry went through some light linebacker drills, although he spent most of the day working as a defensive lineman. Neither Perry nor Kalil took part in testing, as both were satisfied with the marks they posted at the combine.
Harris opened up about why he was not allowed to work out at the NFL combine last month. He said during the physical examination at the event, doctors found a small hole in his heart after an EKG and echocardiogram. Harris said the condition is known as PFO -- patent foramen ovale -- and occurs in roughly 25 percent of the population, when a small hole in the heart that assists with blood flow before birth doesn't close completely. Harris said it is the same issue found with former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi after he suffered a stroke. But he added that the day after he returned home, Harris visited a doctor in Arizona who cleared him completely and said he shouldn't have been excluded from the combine. "He e-mailed all the teams that it's natural and not a risk," Harris said. "The doctor said I'm 100 percent healthy. I hope they realize I'm fine."
Erik McKinney is the recruiting editor for WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 2004. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.