Ex-Gator Harrison eager to watch NFL draft

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jonotthan Harrison can't remember exactly when it started, but at some point in high school he became an NFL draft junkie.

As a college football prospect at Groveland (Fla.) South Lake, he'd watch for hours with friends and think, "One day."

He arrived at the University of Florida as an interior offensive lineman in 2009 and kept watching every year, getting closer to making that dream a reality.

Once his career at UF ended, along with his streak of 39 consecutive starts -- all but two at center -- the NFL draft started to feel a whole lot closer.

That's when former Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley invited Harrison to train at his facility in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"He reached out to me at the end of the season and flew down to Gainesville," Harrison said. "We met for about two hours and we clicked right away as soon as he walked in the door. ... That's when I really realized this is getting real.

"He's actually been a great mentor to me, helped me find an agent. I honestly feel like I couldn't be in a better situation."

Beginning in December, Harrison trained for a month and a half. Not seeing his family during the holidays was a strong reminder that football was now a job. But the work with Bentley paid immediate dividends.

"When I went out to the NFLPA Bowl Game, I felt like an entirely different animal," he said. "I was a lot stronger, firing off the ball, a lot more sound and stable. I saw the fruits of my labor showing."

Harrison did well at the NFL scouting combine in late February, measuring 6-foot-3½ and 304 pounds. He has long arms, big hands and a good 40-yard dash time of 5.15 seconds.

He followed that up with a solid performance in a rainy-day workout in front of scouts and personnel officials from all 32 NFL teams at Florida's pro day in mid-March.

Being back on campus at UF brought his journey full circle and gave Harrison pause to reflect.

"Time has been flying by," he said. "There's just a lot of blood, sweat, tears, skin cells -- whatever you want to name, that's all over this field. There's some great memories."

As the draft approaches, Harrison has received a lot of advice from agent Blake Baratz about managing expectations.

"My agent is very confident in the fact that I'll get drafted somewhere," Harrison said. "But he's just saying if you keep your expectations low and very, very realistic -- because anything can happen in the draft -- then I won't be disappointed.

"He said, 'Trust me, this weekend for you is going to be a very exciting weekend.' If I go in the seventh round or I'm an undrafted free agent, whatever it is, it's not necessarily an insult to me. It's just how everything worked out in the draft."

Baratz said he has received a lot of positive feedback on Harrison.

"Based on all of the feedback that I've gotten from all the teams, the majority of the teams have him in those middle rounds -- fourth, fifth," he said. "But I've seen enough things with the draft not to promise or guarantee anyone anything."

Regardless of when he is picked or if he is picked, Harrison is ready to buckle up for an NFL draft ride unlike any he's watched before.

He'll be at home in Mascotte, Fla., with his parents and some close friends. He'll be glued to the TV. After all these years, he couldn't imagine it any other way.

"I'm definitely going to watch it," he said. "I'd be too anxious not to. Every text message I get, I'd be checking my phone, 'What's going on? What's going on?'

"Yeah, I'm going to watch Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I know I'm not going Thursday. It's unlikely I'm going Friday, but you never know what's going to happen. My day is most likely Saturday. But I will be watching all the days because I do have former teammates and people I'm training with that could possibly go Thursday or Friday."

Whatever happens, Harrison said he'll be grateful. He expects the three-day event to be entertaining.

"Anywhere in the draft is great," he said. "It's such a great accomplishment. Only a small percentage of college athletes make it to the professional level. ...

"It's interesting to see where everyone goes. There's a lot of shockers usually. I know a lot of people who expected to go first round that don't go first round. A lot of people who expected to go fourth, fifth that jump up to the second. So it's that crazy of a situation. That's why I don't want to get too strung up on it."

This draft will be different. It's his time.