BOISE, Idaho – As strange as it sounds, now the hard part begins for Chad Spann.
The Northern Illinois senior running back and Mid-American Conference Vern Smith Leadership Award (MVP) winner wants to play in the NFL, but will have to prove himself all over again in the coming weeks and months to get his chance.
"I've talked with scouts, and every single one of them said they don't know if he'll be a draft pick or not," running backs coach Rob Reeves said after Saturday's Humanitarian Bowl in which Spann rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns in front of a nationally televised audience. "A lot of it will depend on what he does from here on out – all-star games, combines and all that stuff. But they said he's taken care of the first part and that's film. That's playing on Saturdays.
"He'll get into somebody's camp, whether he's drafted or it's as a free agent. He's that type of player."
At a listed height of 5-foot-9, Spann knows that is a question that he'll face over and over again.
But it's not like the single-season record holder for touchdowns in a season at NIU would be setting a new precedent as a smaller back playing on Sundays, or even as a shorter back from NIU with Garrett Wolfe finding a home with the Bears. Height-wise, Spann stands-in between Wolfe (5-7) and former Huskies back and Atlanta Falcons star Michael Turner (5-11).
"I like to watch a lot of NFL running backs, guys who are small, my size," Spann said at a news conference in Boise. "Guys like (New York Giants running back) Ahmad Bradshaw, Ray Rice of Baltimore. Those are guys I like to actually watch film of and try and break down and see what they do and see how I can implement what they do into my own game."
Spann's production has gone noticed by draft outlets, with NFLDraftScout.com saying, "Don't let his lack of size fool you – Spann is a legitimate pro prospect." His 223-yard performance on only 14 carries at Minnesota this season undoubtedly helped his already established reputation as a playmaker. His experience on special teams also should help Spann market himself as a versatile player.
"What I've told Chad is, after talking to all the scouts, is it's no different than when he came to Northern Illinois," Reeves said. "He just needs to do what he did when he came here, and go tell everybody 'I can' because he can. He's a talent.
"So he's going to get his opportunity. It's just where and in what capacity."