RICHMOND, Ky. – Noah Spence had a tough time initially believing what the official combine stopwatch read following his 40-yard runs: 4.8 seconds.
It just didn't seem right.
"I knew that wasn't what I usually run," said Spence, a potential first-rounder who had sprinted two-tenths of a second faster during his pre-draft training.
Apparently he was a little closer to the norm Friday afternoon when scouts from several of the 20-plus NFL teams represented at his pro day complimented the former Eastern Kentucky standout following his runs. Several of their stopwatches had him in the 4.7 range. He was a tick faster than what he showcased just five days before at the combine in Indianapolis.
"They were saying, 'good job,'" Spence said. "I know they wouldn't be saying that if it was bad."
Spence could get his time even lower by the end of the pre-draft process. A hamstring that was tweaked during the Senior Bowl nagged him all the way into the combine and still has him slowed a step or two.
"I was just too tight [at the combine]," Spence said. "I'm still not 100 percent, but it felt good. It felt a lot better."
Regular massages, rehab and constant work on his 40-yard technique comprised the bulk of Spence's work during the short window between the combine and his pro day. His original hope was to have his pro day in late March, but Eastern Kentucky decided to hold the event on the same day that Kentucky was conducting its pro day a half hour north in Lexington.
Scouts and coaches from the Bengals, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Lions, Falcons, Jets and at least 18 other teams were in attendance.
Spence came into the pre-draft process with his share of baggage. Before enrolling at Eastern Kentucky last year, he was kicked out of Ohio State. It was at the end of an all-conference 2013 season when he tested positive for the drug ecstasy. Ten months later, after sitting out Ohio State's Big Ten title game and Orange Bowl appearances, he tested positive again. That test forced him out of football for a year and out of Ohio State for good.
Since then, he has had no other drug-related problems. He graduated from Eastern Kentucky in December, and has spent the past year giving back to the less fortunate in Columbus, Ohio. Each month since he's been gone from Ohio State, Spence has given a financial contribution to one of the city's food shelters. On the field, he racked up eight sacks for the Colonels in 2015, matching his sack total from his 2013 season with the Buckeyes.
Because of his past, Spence believes he has to spend the rest of the pre-draft period convincing teams he really is a new man.
His father believes he will do that.
"Noah is showing the strength and resilience that it takes to have overcome [his past], and hopefully it will be an opportunity for someone else who may have made those same decisions at a young age, to be an inspiration for them," Gregory Spence said. "We're just glad that as he had mentioned during the combine, from all the dozens of tests he has had since then, that there's no hint of him going backwards. He has continued to go forward and make good decisions. We know that's going to continue."