INDANAPOLIS --To the Broncos and their fans, their young players are just that.
But to their college teammates who are here taking the same steps as they did, players like Max Garcia, Bennie Fowler, Jeff Heuerman and Cody Latimer are role models and mentors as their younger ex-teammates attempt to take the same path they did.
A year after he went through the NFL Scouting Combine, Garcia has been the subject of ample praise here at the Combine. Head Coach Gary Kubiak pointed to his prowess at the white board diagramming plays during last year's interview sessions as a reason why the Broncos chose him in the fourth round, and Garcia's University of Florida teammates were equally effusive.
"Max was awesome," recalled quarterback Jeff Driskel, who took snaps from Garcia before transferring to Louisiana Tech for his senior season. "He came in and was a leader immediately.
"Great dude, great player. Somebody that any program would love to have."
The two have kept in touch "a little bit" since parting, Driskel said.
"Things get a little bit crazy at that level; I understand that," Driskel said. "People blowing his phone up -- so you don't want to be a hassle, but we check in every once in a while and see how everything's going."
Driskel transferred from Florida. Garcia transferred to there from Maryland, taking a similar path to tight end Jake McGee, who finished his college career at UF after matriculating at Virginia.
"He was a guy I was able to lean on when I got to Florida, just because he did sort of the same process, and he's such a good guy that he's reaching out, just making sure everything is well," McGee said.
"If I have any questions [about the pre-draft process], I can reach out to him, but so far, I haven't had anything to ask him. When we talk, it's more about just catching up."
Following in a friend's footsteps**
At Ohio State, Nick Vannett took on more of an all-around role among the Buckeyes' tight ends last year after Jeff Heuerman moved on to the NFL. Vannett handled the blocking responsibilities that Heuerman had done well enough to earn a second-day selection by the Broncos in last year's draft.
And whenever he needed advice, he knew he could call his predecessor.
"That's my dude," Vannett said. "I was talking to him yesterday and earlier today. He kind of gave me the heads-up on what to expect here this week and offered a lot of good advice. He's been helpful. He just wanted to inform me on what to look out for, what to do and how to go about it."
The best advice from Heuerman?
"Just be yourself," Vannett said. "When you meet with these teams, they want to know who you are. They want to put a face on you. Be relaxed, and be as confident as you can."
Elsewhere in the Big 10, at Michigan State, wide receiver Allen Burbridge hopes to travel the same path that Bennie Fowler did in establishing a role in an NFL offense. Burbridge will lean on many of the pointers that Fowler provided to him during their time together in East Lansing.
"He helped me in my football I.Q., learning how to read coverages, how to run certain routes against certain coverages and all that," Burbridge said.
The two were close as teammates, and two years apart has not weakened their bond.
"We still talk almost every day," Burbridge said. "He's a person that helped me develop and become the player I am today."
By the time Nate Sudfeld became Indiana's primary quarterback in 2013, Cody Latimer was firmly established as a receiving star for the Hoosiers. Although Sudfeld split time early in that season with Tre Roberson, his connection with Latimer helped him emerge from the time-share duties. Seven of Latimer's nine touchdown receptions in 2013 came via passes from Sudfeld, including a three-touchdown day together against Illinois.
"Cody was awesome. He was an incredible talent, and being a younger guy kind of looking up to him, he really brought me along with him, and we really grew together," Sudfeld said.
"He's only a year older than me, but he really was kind of a big brother in a sense, and a great player. He was fun to play with."
In the two years since Latimer joined the Broncos, the duo has kept in touch. Sudfeld said Latimer texted him and talked with him this week, wishing him good luck and offering Combine advice.
"He said, 'It's a grind -- this draft process and the Combine -- but he said it's a lot of fun, so enjoy it," Sudfeld said.