The dream has followed Joe Botti like a shadow -- from his childhood days playing football in his backyard in Holtsville, to the fields of Sachem East High School and LIU Post, where his pass-catching skills continually have been tweaked and critiqued but hopefully haven't peaked.
Botti hopes to emerge from the shadows of relative anonymity to show NFL scouts he's ready to turn his childhood dream into a reality. He is one of 150 college seniors invited to this weekend's NFL super regional combine at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. They all have the same goal: to impress enough to be selected in the NFL draft May 8-10.
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"As a kid, everyone says, 'I want to be a professional football player.' To be thought of in that category is amazing," Botti said. "Reality is kicking in that I belong there. I'm very excited, but I'm also a little nervous. But I've got nothing to lose."
Although LIU Post has sent more than two dozen players to the NFL, the Pioneers' campus is not exactly a gathering spot for NFL scouts, so Botti knows it won't be his reputation that will get him noticed when he steps onto the field Sunday.
It'll be his "measurables" -- height (6-3), weight (200), 40 time (high 4.5s), hand size, wing span -- plus his performance in the combine drills. Then at the end of the day comes Botti's favorite part -- when he gets to run pass routes and show off his receiving skills.
"My strengths are my route-running and my hands," said Botti, who led LIU Post with 62 catches for 878 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall. "And jump balls. I'll go up and get it. It shouldn't be 50-50 balls. You should be thinking it's 100 percent yours. My frame is good. I'll go all out to make my quarterback look good. If it's in your hands, it's on you. You've got to catch it."
LIU Post coach Bryan Collins isn't surprised that Botti has received interest from scouts. "He's one of our best receivers of all time," Collins said. "If you were a scout, you'd keep him under your hat and then tell your boss what he can do. He's got the talent and the mindset. He deserves a shot to be in some team's camp."
Collins said that though "the numbers are the first thing they look at, he's got some intangibles. Joe is always one to capture the moment, make the big plays. He has the ability to adjust in the air and go and get the ball."
Botti said he earned his invitation to the Motor City at a Jets regional combine in February.
"I went there a little anxious. There were more than a hundred receivers and you're just a number," he said. "They call you out and you get five routes. If you get a bad quarterback, that's it, you're done."
Fortunately for Botti, he drew a college quarterback with a good arm. He ran a quick out, a quick in, a slant, a vertical and a post corner. "I caught four and he overthrew me on the post corner," Botti said. "I thought I did really well."
Apparently, others agreed, because just before Botti made plans to audition at regional combines in Atlanta and Baltimore, he got a letter telling him he was invited to the big show in Detroit.
He began his weekend by meeting scouts and taking the Wonderlic test Saturday. On Sunday, he'll get poked, prodded, measured and weighed before taking part in the 40, vertical jump, broad jump and shuttle run. The day finishes with pass routes. More than 50 receivers from around the country, the most of any position, are expected to attend.
Ford Field is not his grassy backyard or the turf fields of his high school and college days, but Botti relishes the challenge. Catching passes is what he loves, and he wants to have an opportunity to keep doing it.
"The people at Post have been great to me. I want to put them on the map," Botti said. "All you need is for one person to like you."