Blake Hammond figured he lived close enough and had a enough talent and determination to give it a shot. So on Sunday, the Western Michigan tight end and former Lincoln-Way East star woke up at 8 a.m. and drove from his parents' home in the south suburbs to Halas Hall in Lake Forest.
Hammond, a star quarterback at Lincoln-Way East not too long ago, was one of several players with local ties to take part in an NFL regional combine at the Bears' Walter Payton Center. There were 275 players who participated in the combine on Sunday.
There are 13 regional combines for position players and one super-regional combine in Dallas (April 7) this year. In 2012, there were 69 players who attended either a regional combine or the super-regional and were on NFL rosters heading into training camp.
"It's great to see some of the upper-class athletes from the area," Hammond said. "And we had a lot of guys coming in from all over the country, showing us what they got. It's a good showcase of talent, and it's good to be around it."
Hammond (6-4, 234 pounds) was an all-conference quarterback at Lincoln-Way East, but he was recruited by Western Michigan as a tight end. He's coming off by far his most productive season for the Broncos, recording 25 catches for 386 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games. He also averaged 15.4 yards per catch.
Of course, it was a transition going from quarterback to tight end. But Hammond believes he was able to prove he can handle the position.
"The transition was a bit a slow," said Hammond, who was joined by Broncos teammates, tight end Dallas Walker and receiver Eric Monette, at the combine. "Especially at Western Michigan with our offense, the tight end position is so versatile. You have to know so much and so much is required with your physical ability. You have to be able to block and you have to be able to run routes against safeties who are running 4.4 [40-yard dashes]. It was definitely different. It took some time to get used to."
So how did things go at the combine?
"I think I had a good day," Hammond said. "I think my jumps went really well. I felt fast. I felt good. The routes, the timing with the quarterback was a different when you haven't worked out with a quarterback in like forever. But it was good. I felt I ran clean routes. I felt fast. I thought I had a pretty good day."
Hammond also hopes to have a good day Friday at Western Michigan's pro day. At the combine, his every move was videotaped for NFL evaluators. At his pro day, Hammond should be able to meet and perform live in front of scouts.
"I was a little disappointed that we didn't have the three-cone [drill] here [at the Walter Payton Center], which is my best-timed run," Hammond said. "I was disappointed I didn't see it out there, but that's OK. I'm excited about pro day. I just hope I do well."
Getting drafted still is unlikely, but Hammond may able to catch on and sign with a team as a rookie free agent. It's a path a lot of NFL players have taken.
Wide receiver Joe Anderson impressed the Bears at a regional combine in Houston in 2012 and was signed to the practice squad. He was then signed to the Bears' active roster in December and played on special teams for three games. Anderson recorded two tackles on special teams against the Packers on Dec. 16.
Hammond sees all the success that tight ends, such as Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, are having in the NFL right now and believes he can do the same, given the chance.
"You see these guys having great careers and you see that you have that same ability, and it's exciting that hopefully another team is looking for somebody like you," Hammond said. "I'm excited. Hopefully, I get a chance to showcase my ability."