SALT LAKE CITY — The lights are on in Eccles Field House, though natural sunlight is also filtering in. But from where Brandon Burton and Sealver Siliga sit, it's murky. They're speeding down a foggy nighttime road. There could be a clear patch just ahead, or there could be a deer in the middle of the road.
The days of safety are over, the unknown stretches ahead.
Siliga, Burton and a handful of other former Ute football players took part in Pro Day on Tuesday morning. On one hand, you have to wonder how dark things could actually be. There were a couple of dozen scouts from teams across the league on hand to watch them try out for the NFL. In another sense, they're not only leaving behind their teammates and friends, they're passing on the chance to play in the Pac-12.
"It was real hard," said Siliga, a defensive tackle who played two seasons at Utah. "I really love my teammates, they're like brothers to me. So it was not an easy decision. People thought it was. They thought it was like, 'Oh, the NFL — yeah!' But it wasn't that kind of thing. There's a downside, too."
For last season's seniors like Christian Cox, Caleb Schlauderaff, Zane Taylor, Shaky Smithson, Joe Phillips and others, Pro Day was their only real choice. Their careers at Utah are over. But For Siliga and Burton, it's a bigger deal. They could have returned for the Utes' first season in the Pac-12, but instead declared themselves draft-eligible.
"No regrets," Burton said. "I feel like I made the right decision. I'm not negative about anything."
Good for him; there's already plenty of negativity to go around. The NFL is in the throes of an ugly lockout that could result in the loss of next season. Deciding how to divide $9 billion in revenue is tricky business.
Burton is projected to be a late first- or early second-round draft pick. But for players like Siliga, a projected late-round pick, it's riskier. Now comes the fear that the lockout could keep them from playing at all. They could end up eating Doritos while teammates battle USC, UCLA and Arizona State.
"That would be hard. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," Siliga said. "But the only thing I can do is focus on the things I can control. The things you can't control, all it's going to do is give me a headache."
Still, the uncertainty didn't overshadow the optimism of Pro Day. After appearing in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, both Burton and Siliga had a chance to resell themselves in Salt Lake. Burton, a cornerback, said he didn't know his time in the 40, but felt he improved over his Combine showing. Siliga, a defensive tackle, added he was "grateful for the opportunity."
So it went on Tuesday, offensive linemen practicing blocking drills, defensive linemen working on agility, defensive backs and receivers running sprints. Grouped about the field were scouts from Oakland, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Arizona, Cincinnati and points beyond. It was Burton's first return to campus since shortly after a game-winning kick block against BYU.
"When I was in the moment, I was kind of like, 'Aw, I made a play,' but a couple of months later it was real big and people were still talking about it, so it has grown since then," he said.15 comments on this story
The labor rhetoric has grown, too. Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett recently called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell "a blatant liar."
With talk like that, what are the odds of an NFL season?
"Hopefully there will be a football season ... hopefully," said Burton.
"I know our nation is better off with the NFL playing than not playing," said Ute scouting liaison Aaron Alford. "There are a lot of jobs they can lose if they don't have an NFL season."
Not the least being Burton's and Siliga's.