It was a small step, but T.J. Fatinikun conquered his first obstacle in his daunting quest to make a NFL roster.
In October, after a torn Achilles tendon ended his football career with the University of Toledo, the ill-fated pass rusher scoffed at a doctor’s prediction that he would be only 75 to 80 percent recovered in time for the team’s pro day in March.
The moment of truth came Tuesday, and Fatinikun reported to the Fetterman Training Center feeling and looking as good as ever. He put forth a firm performance in front of NFL scouts to mitigate concerns of a prospect who missed more games than he played in his final two seasons.
"My biggest thing is to make a 53-man roster," said two-time All-Mid-American Conference selection from Perrysburg.
Fatinikun finished in the 4.5 to 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash, an adequate time that gives credibility to his desired transition to outside linebacker from defensive end. His 26 bench press repetitions at 225 pounds established a personal best. At 6-foot-1 and down about seven pounds to 243, Fatinikun appeared to have benefitted from his relocation to Houston a month ago to train.
"Overall I felt pretty confident," he said. "Hopefully they’re impressed and we’ll just go from there."
Fatinikun has not had much go his way the past two years. The NCAA in January denied Toledo’s appeal for a fifth year on his behalf because Fatinikun exceeded the threshold for a medical waiver by playing in 30 percent of the team’s games. A significant elbow injury sidelined him in the sixth game of his junior season. The Achilles tear came five games, or 38 percent, into his senior season.
"It was dark. It was dark," he said. "A lot of people wrote me off."
Fatinikun plans to hire an agent soon and begin arranging private workouts with NFL teams. No Toledo player since 2008 has been taken in the NFL draft, a streak likely to continue this year.
Other Rockets who participated Tuesday were Dan Molls, Jermaine Robinson, Cordale Scott, Phil Lewis, Hank Keighley, A.J. Lindeman, David Pasquale, Mark Singer, Byron Best, Danny Farr, Colby Kratch, and Kenny Stafford.
Attending, but as a spectator, was Austin Dantin. The quarterback says he is finished with the sport. Eric Page, who lost his rookie season in the NFL last year to an ACL tear, participated in vertical jump — the first drill of the morning — before leaving. Page, who was undrafted after forgoing his senior season with the Rockets, did not respond to a text message.
Molls said he packed on eight or nine quality pounds, the result of "nine weeks of intense dieting and training." Chiseled at 238 pounds and almost 6-feet, the All-MAC linebacker hopes his familiarity with special teams will appeal to scouts.
"With my size, and what I can do, I’m going to have to do it on special teams first before anything else can happen," he said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.