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In 2016, 38 players were selected in the NFL Draft even though they weren't invited to the Scouting Combine. In the last week before the draft, PFW is introducing fans to "late risers," prospects who didn't go to the Combine but impressed at a Pro Day and are getting attention from NFL teams at the right time.

Previous stories: Northwestern LB Joe Jones, Western State (Co.) RB Austin Ekeler

Rashaad Coward watched the Combine, but only to see his Old Dominion teammate, wide receiver Zach Pascal. He wasn’t interested in watching the other defensive tackles.

“I was kind of mad I didn’t go,” he said. “But I’m glad I didn’t go after I realized that our Pro Day really benefitted me and I needed to focus on football and the drills and not the media and interviews and stuff like that.”

Coward may not have been invited to the Combine — Pascal was the first ODU Monarch ever invited — but he’s been getting plenty of attention from teams. At 6-5 5/8 and 322 pounds, Coward moves well — illustrated by a 5.03 40-time, which is only .03 seconds slower than the 286-pound, top-five pick Jonathan Allen.

“[Hearing about] guys at 290 running the same 40-time as me, I thought, 'OK, I can play at that level,'” Coward said.

Coward has visited with the Texans, Broncos, Jets and Giants — quite the leap for a two-star high school recruit from Brooklyn.

Old Dominion first contacted Coward via Facebook. He hadn’t heard of the university, but visited and was offered a full scholarship and stayed committed even after getting other offers.

During Coward's first two years, Old Dominion was transitioning to the FBS. As a junior, Coward started every game at defensive tackle, and the one that stands out for him came against North Carolina State.

“My goal was always to make it to the NFL,” he said. “My junior year we played against NC State and I started thinking about that. Going against an NFL guy, I was handling him pretty well.”

Coward had four tackles, a half sack and a half tackle for loss in that game, lining up against current Patriots guard Joe Thuney.

“What motivated me was to have a winning season and it motivated me to work harder and be a bigger and better leader on and off the field so we could win more games,” Coward said. “That’s what really motivated me.”

As a 13-game starter last season, Coward had 50 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. He was a captain for an Old Dominion team that went to — and won — its first-ever bowl game while winning 10 games. Coward had four tackles and a QB hurry in the bowl win.

Coward admits he was nervous at his Pro Day, but his coach calmed him down and “told me to just play football.” NFL coaches have talked to Coward about working on his knee bend and pad level, and he’s also trying to show off his mental toughness.

“My D-line coach and my head coach, we focused on mental toughness,” he said. “When everyone’s tired, who can we put in the game to win the game or get a stop? We pride ourselves on that.”

Coward gets that inspiration from his mother, Jackie Duke.

“She showed me hard work and not to cut corners,” he said about Duke, a single mother of three. “She made sure we had a good childhood and knew what was right from wrong.”

Coward projects as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense or a three-technique in a 40-front on the field. Off the field, he has interest in giving back to the community. He has aspirations of opening a gym to give kids afterschool activities after his football career is over, or maybe joining the police force in New York City.

Coming from Old Dominion, Coward recognizes that at his position, there are other players getting more headlines.

“I understand. They played better competition,” he said. “They were on bigger platforms in the SEC or ACC. I understood that, but I know that I can play. When I get my shot, I have to make the most of it.”

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This article originally ran on profootballweekly.com.

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