Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Scouts time former Cougar Kelly Poppinga in the 40-yard dash during BYU football's Pro Day in Provo on Wednesday.

PROVO — As he prepares for a future in the National Football League, former BYU linebacker Bryan Kehl enjoyed something of a homefield advantage on Wednesday.

Kehl, who helped the Cougars capture back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships, was back on campus for the school's annual Pro Day in hopes of bolstering his draft status.

He participated in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month — he was the only BYU player invited — but he worked out again in front of 18 NFL scouts and other team representatives Wednesday in Provo.

Doing drills in a place he knows so well, Kehl said he felt more comfortable at BYU than he did in Indianapolis.

"It's like a homefield advantage," Kehl said. "At the (NFL) combine, I was kind of at their mercy, being poked and prodded and going through medical tests. This time, you already know the scouts and coaches who are here. It's round two. I was better in every category today, and I think that's the result of having done it before."

Kehl improved on his vertical leap, from 34 inches to 35 inches, and ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, which is a tenth of a second faster than his time at the NFL combine.

On Jan. 1, following the Cougars' 11-2 season and a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl, Kehl moved to Southern California to work with a personal trainer. Prior to the NFL combine, he played in the East-West Shrine game. Kehl plans to remain close to home in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft in late April.

"I'm just living the dream," said Kehl, who is projected to be a mid- to late-round draft pick.

Following the NFL combine in February, College FootballNews.com rated Kehl among the top 15 outside linebackers, checking in at No. 14. On NFLDraftWatch.com, Kehl is included in a list of "sleeper prospects."

Kehl was one of eleven seniors who went through workouts at BYU, including the broad jump, vertical jump and bench press. Later, they were timed in the 40-yard dash and shuttle run.

Linebacker Chris Bolden recorded the best vertical jump of 36 inches, while linebacker Kelly Poppinga recorded 27 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Other seniors who participated in Wednesday's workouts were cornerback Andre Saulsberry, defensive lineman Sean Sullivan, center Sete Aulai, linebacker Markell Staffieri, cornerback Kayle Buchanan, fullback Joe Semanoff, defensive lineman Judd Anderton and cornerback Ben Criddle. Both Kehl and Poppinga are happy that Pro Day is behind them.

"I'm just glad it's over. I can think about the draft now and get ready for that," said Poppinga, who bench-pressed 225 pounds 27 times for the scouts. "It's like we've been training for a big old track meet. Now it's time to play football. I'm excited about that."

Poppinga has been working out six hours a day in preparation for Pro Day, and he felt good about how he performed.

"All in all, it was a pretty good day. I got some good feedback from the scouts. I'm pretty pumped. It was a long two months of doing that over and over again. I'm glad this day finally came. I think I did fairly well."

Poppinga's older brother, Brady, is a former Cougar who now plays for the Green Bay Packers. "We've been talking at least twice a week for the last two months," Kelly said. "He's given me some good advice. I think it paid off today."

A handful of NFL defensive coaches spent extra time with the linebackers — Kehl, Poppinga, Staffieri and Bolden — putting them through a series of flexibility and agility tests.

The NFL teams represented Wednesday at BYU included the Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants.


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com