Between now and April 25, Florida defensive end Jachai Polite has one main goal he’s chasing.
He’s determined to show NFL coaches, scouts and general managers who he really is, as a player and, maybe even more important, as a person.
“It’s my job to get them to know me,” Polite said at UF’s Pro Day on Wednesday. “I’ve just got to show them the real me.”
He failed to do that in his first attempt, at the NFL Combine last month. He failed in epic fashion.
He wasn’t himself.
He showed up 20 pounds heavier than he’d been at the end of the season and appeared out of shape. He had disappointing times in the 40-yard dash (between 4.8 and 4.9 seconds), then pulled himself out of the remaining drills, citing a hamstring injury he’d sustained 10 days earlier.
His performance off the field was perhaps even more alarming. During interviews with individual teams, he did not respond well to criticism by calling out several teams for grilling him.
Some have called Polite’s overall performance one of the worst in the history of the Combine.
He went into the process as a possible top-10 draft pick. Since then, he’s plummeted, all the way out of the first round and possibly out of the second, according to some draft analysts.
After running one 40-yard dash and participating in two individual drills at UF’s Pro Day, Polite for the first time explained what happened, what went wrong, in Indianapolis in February.
Explaining the physical part is simple: his hamstring basically hamstrung his efforts on the field and in the 40.
“It affected me bad,” he said.
As for the 20 pounds he put on between the end of the season and the Combine, that was intentional, Polite said.
“I just wanted to get my weight up knowing at the next level they’re bigger, stronger, faster,” he said. “I’ve got to learn how to run with it and get used to it. It was just a quick transition.”
Polite’s injured hamstring and added weight took a toll on his on-the-field performance at the Combine.
Concerning his poor performance in the interviews, Polite said he wasn’t prepared for the process and responded poorly to criticism, which is common from teams trying to find out about a player’s character.
“I just wasn’t ready at all,” he said. “I wasn’t ready mentally, to be honest. It was more intimidating, for sure. And I took the criticism too personally. I took it the wrong way.”
Polite said he has a better idea now how to navigate the interview process and he’ll handle himself in a much different manner in the interviews he has with teams between now and the draft.
“It’s a major learning experience for me, something I’ve never been through,” he said. “I just keep learning every day.
“I never knew how serious and how mentally tough you had to be at this moment. I’ve learned from it. I’m doing better now. I’ve got to show them the real me.”
And who is the real Jachai Polite?
“I’m a humble guy, caring, outgoing,” he said. “I’m just a great dude, a great football player. I didn’t really show them that (at the Combine). I’ll have to show them the next time, and I’m ready to do that.”
He’ll have a chance to do that in interviews with teams over the next month leading up to the draft.
“My visits are going to be very important,” he said. “I can give them a chance to get to know me. It’s my job to put myself out there to them.”
Physically, Polite is still somewhat hampered by the hamstring injury. His right leg was heavily taped for UF’s Pro Day and the injury was clearly a factor. After running just one 40 (4.9 seconds), he skipped the cone drills. He managed to go through two of the individual drills later.
“I need to work a little harder (on rehab),” Polite said.
He did appear to be in better shape than a month ago.
He’s lost about five pounds since the Combine and plans to lose six or seven more, putting him just under 250. He played at 240 last season.
Polite is in control of his weight. But he has no control over where he goes in the draft. Once considered a possible top-10 pick, he now is facing the possibility of falling out of the first round after his Combine performance.
“I feel like I’m still there,” he said. “Where they pick me, I don’t know. I believe in myself first and foremost.
“Whoever gets me, whoever takes a chance from my terrible interviews and Combine, they’re going to get a great player. That’s all I know.”