Alex Ward was sitting down in his living room checking email on his phone when a new message arrived.
The sixth-year UCF long snapper had received an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine.
“It came through very nonchalant,” Ward said. “It’s just some guy’s name and NFL beside it. I’m like, ‘What is this?’ I open it up and the first thing I see is the Combine logo, ‘We’re excited to extend an invite to the Combine.’
“I jumped up, my phone went flying and I ran to the front door, ran back to the living room, I’m jumping up and called my Dad,” he recalled. “It was great.”
Ward received the invite to the scouting combine on Jan. 3. This week he’s back at UCF practicing for the Hula Bowl, an all-star college football game, that will be held at FBC Mortgage Stadium on Saturday (CBS Sports Network, noon).
He’s one of five former Knights taking part in the Hula Bowl that includes running back Isaiah Bowser, offensive lineman Sam Jackson, tight end Kemore Gamble and defensive back Divaad Wilson.
“I got carried off the field. Now I’m back on the field and get to play at a higher level getting ready for the NFL,” Ward said. “There are a lot of new faces on an old field which feels a little odd, but it’s fun.”
The Hula Bowl is just the beginning of what will be months of preparation for Ward leading up to the NFL Draft, which takes place at the end of April.
Following this week, Ward will train in Bradenton with a specialized long-snapping coach and return to UCF for two weeks before heading to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
He’ll return to UCF and continue training for the Combine that’s held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis from Feb. 28-March 6.
He described the early steps of the process as semi-familiar.
That’s because Ward was invited to the Senior Bowl last year after being named a finalist for the Patrick Mannelly Award, which honors the nation’s top long snapper.
The 2021 third-team Phil Steele All-American had a major decision to make: Head to the league or an extra year of college eligibility.
Ward returned to UCF. It’s a decision that’s been questioned by scouts this week at the Hula Bowl, but one he doesn’t regret.
“I don’t see a reason for a long snapper to declare any earlier than he has to,” he said. “I plan to play 10-plus years in the NFL so why cut life a year short here?
“I’m more developed and ready than I would have been last year,” he added. “[It was] a better situation all around being at UCF and having fun for another year.”
The extra year included once again being a finalist for the Mannelly Award and earning a second trip to the Senior Bowl.
And Ward understands the significance of his NFL Combine invite.
Around 300 players participate in the annual scouting event, but long snappers represent a small percentage. Excluding the 2021 event which was canceled, only 24 long snappers have participated at the Combine in Indianapolis since 2006, according to Stathead.com.
Compared to 288 quarterbacks who have taken part in the Combine during the same span, long snappers at the event are rare.
“They normally pick about one a year to service the punters and kickers,” Ward said. “I’m very privileged to have that opportunity this year and be that guy.”
This week at the Hula Bowl he’s received plenty of interest from NFL scouts. He’s aiming to showcase his size, athleticism and consistency as a long snapper.
“I’ve been getting a lot of interviews,” said Ward who spoke with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday.
Ward would play for any NFL team, obviously, but he has a dream team.
“I’ve been a Saints fan forever,” he said. “The Bucs are big down here. All my friends are Bucs fans. I love the Panthers organization. I’m happy to get a job anywhere. I’ll play for anyone as hard as I possibly can.”
Email Jason Beede at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @therealBeede.