COVID-19 impacting NFL hopefuls from JMU

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HARRISONBURG, Va. -- After five years of college football, including the last two at JMU, Ben DiNucci is ready to make the jump to professional football.

COVID-19 is impacting former JMU football players who are trying to earn a spot in the NFL.

"It's one of those things that you can't really wrap your head around until it's here," said DiNucci, who spent the last two seasons as JMU's starting quarterback after transferring in from Pitt.

DiNucci and a number of his now former JMU teammates have a chance to hear their names called during the upcoming NFL Draft, which is still scheduled from April 23-25. If not selected during the three-day event, multiple players from JMU will likely have a chance to sign with NFL franchises as free agents.

"As a little kid I dreamt of this, to prepare for the NFL," said former JMU tight end Dylan Stapleton.

However, COVID-19 is impacting how NFL franchises can evaluate players from JMU. The Dukes' Pro Day, which was scheduled for last week, was postponed due to the virus. A makeup date is not scheduled at this time. Pro Day provides players with a chance to workout in front of NFL scouts on their own college campuses. It's especially important for players from JMU who might not get as much attention throughout the college football regular season as players from FBS and Power Five programs.

"As guys who didn't go to the NFL Combine, we were using (Pro Day) as exposure," said former JMU defensive lineman John Daka. "We were supposed to have a good turnout of NFL teams that were supposed to be there."

While Pro Day would've been an important evaluation tool, JMU players who are hoping to earn an NFL opportunity played sixteen games this past season, which provides plenty of video for scouts and league personnel to watch.

"I played a lot of ball the last three years, started a lot of games and played in a bunch of big games," said DiNucci. "So I think my tape will speak for itself."

DiNucci, Stapleton, and Daka all have a chance to hear their names called during the NFL Draft. But perhaps the former Duke with the best chance to be selected is defensive lineman Ron'Dell Carter, who was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.