CARSON, CALIF. >> With National Football League scouts to impress and critics to answer, former Hawaii receiver Kealoha Pilares yesterday was prepared to rise to the challenge.
There was one glitch.
“I was ready to get out of bed when I looked at the clock,” Pilares said, smiling. “It was 3 o’clock in the morning. I was definitely a little too anxious.”
It would be several more hours before he would get his long-awaited chance at UH’s pro day at the Home Depot Center. Representatives from every NFL team were ready to put 17 former Warriors through running, jumping, agility and weight-lifting tests.
Running back Alex Green and receiver Greg Salas had solidified their resumes with strong performances at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in late February. Green and Salas only performed position drills yesterday. That shifted most of the attention to Pilares.
“We wanted to see him work out,” said Ted Thompson, general manager of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
After a breakout season in 2010, during which he caught 88 passes for 1,306 yards and 15 touchdowns, Pilares tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Dec. 24 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. The injury did not require surgery, but Pilares had to endure six weeks of rehabilitation.
Pilares went to the NFL combine, but he declined to participate in any of the running or jumping drills. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 19 times, ranking him sixth among receivers there.
Pilares vowed to run at UH’s pro day, a combine that would draw more than 50 NFL scouts and decision-makers. The buzz on Pilares was that he had marginal speed; some scouting services estimated his 40-yard time at 4.6 seconds.
“I’m not sure why they would think that,” said Pilares, who often was one of the fastest Warriors in speed and agility testing.
In the summer of 2009, Pilares was timed in the 40 at 4.37 seconds while training in Atlanta.
“I wanted to show that I’m fast,” Pilares said of his pro-day goal. “I told everybody I was going to run under 4.5. They looked at me like I was on crack.”
But Pilares had worked out intensively in Arizona the past six weeks. He learned the proper sprinter’s techniques, from the quick start to the correct arm motions.
Yesterday, Pilares was credited with running the 40 in 4.42 seconds. One scout listed his time at 4.37 seconds. The 4.42 time would have been one of the fastest at the NFL combine, where the fastest receiver was 4.37 and the fourth-best was 4.43.
“When you hear ‘fast,’ my name does not come up,” Pilares said. “Even at school it was like that, even when I was the fastest in some of the drills.”
At pro day, Pilares had the best vertical jump (40-1/2 inches), broad jump (10 feet 5), short shuttle (4.11 seconds) and long shuttle (6.85 seconds).
During the afternoon session, Pilares ran routes as part of the pass-receive drills. After that, several scouts gave him pop quizzes on pattern decisions. A scout for an AFC team then had Pilares try to make off-balance catches.
“It helped to see him move around, to see his athleticism,” Thompson said. “He’s a very balanced, very quick athlete. He has good agility. He has good ball skills. He plays in space very well. His greatest strength is his quickness. He’s a football player.”
Pilares said his patience was rewarded. During his rehabilitation, he considered resuming workouts before his knee was 100 percent.
“It really tested me,” Pilares said. “As an athlete, you always want to get back out there. But you have to be smart. You can’t force it.”
NFL teams now want to do a more comprehensive medical checkup on Pilares. He is scheduled to meet with NFL doctors next Friday in Indianapolis.
“This is the time in life when you have to make something happen,” Pilares said. “This is an opportunity. I’m grateful for it, and I want to take advantage of it.”