UNH senior defensive back Pop Lacey’s preparations for the NFL draft, along with nearly everything else in the sports world, have been turned on their head in the past month. From losing the final six games of his senior season to injury, to COVID-19 causing the cancelation of four Wildcats’ pro days, the last six months haven’t been kind to Lacey.
Now, half a year removed from his final game at Wildcat Stadium, Pop has returned to 100 percent and found himself on the radar of NFL scouts.
Lacey, who was named to the 2019 Preseason All-Conference Team, hoped to put together a full season of film for scouts as he began his final go around as a Wildcat. However, injuries sidelined the safety for the final six games. Lacey had to watch as the Wildcats finished with a 6-5 record and miss out on the playoffs for the second straight year.
The safety tried to salvage his lost season by applying for a medical hardship waiver to gain an extra season on eligibility. The hardship waiver is granted to athletes who sustained injury the kept them out of competition for the remainder of the season. After being denied the waiver, Lacey set his eyes on the NFL.
“Pretty much after the season I tried to stay healthy, tried to get on physical therapy as soon as I could,” Lacey said. “Now it’s time to find an agent, try to find a place to train at, and also try to find a place to stay if I was going to be training at a place that was far enough away from home.”
UNH’s original pro day was set for March 17 with senior participants such as defensive backs Isiah Perkins, Prince Smith Jr. and Lacey along with running back Evan Gray. NFL scouts from the Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots were among teams that would’ve been in attendance according to Lacey, noting that his agent has been in contact with the teams since the cancelation.
Despite the cancellation of the in-person pro day, Lacey did participate in a virtual pro day at TEST Football Academy in New Jersey. The participants ran a 40-yard dash and participated in drills like the three-cone drill, vertical and broad jumps and other drills that would take place at a typical pro day. Lacey mentioned this version of the showcase may have been more accurate than the in-person pro day that was set to take place in Epping, NH.
“I’m a firm believer that the virtual pro day was beneficial because you’re able to have the laser time your [40-yard dash], so it was really good instead of somebody using a handheld,” noted Lacey.
Pop doubled down on the legitimacy of his virtual pro day.
“Your numbers are going to be your numbers; they’re not going to try and sugarcoat anything; they’re not going to try and hide anything,” Lacey said. “So, that shows that these are legitimate numbers.”
After putting in the work and sending in the numbers, Pop, along with his agent, are gauging the interest of NFL teams.
“As of right now most of the interest that I’ve heard from my agent is more of an undrafted free agent if anything, and maybe some minicamp invites which we’re working for right now,” Lacey said. “I’m looking for that one opportunity to get an invite to camp or an invite to something along those lines.”
The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off April 23 and concludes on April 25. With the big day looming, the defensive back is remaining optimistic but is ready to work for his big break if it doesn’t come during the draft.
“I mean if my name gets called during one of the rounds, thank the Lord, it’s an amazing feeling,” Lacey said. “But at the same time, I’m also prepared to not hear my name be called, and also prepared for the next process that comes after that.”
If the NFL doesn’t pan out for the former Wildcat, he has also been keeping tabs north of the border. According to Lacey, the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League have been in contact with his agency but want to see him workout in person. The Wildcats do currently have representation in the CFL with former quarterback Trevor Knight who is a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Pop explained how players at FBS schools have an advantage in terms of playing against more elite talent on a day-to-day basis as opposed to schools like UNH, an FCS program. He doesn’t feel it hinders a player’s chances of being recognized by NFL teams, however.
“For the FCS guys I feel like if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, [NFL Scouts] are going to notice you,” Lacey said.
Noting his performance at Colorado and the team’s win against Georgia Southern, Lacey continues to make his case for a spot in the NFL.
“For me personally, I know how to play the game of football – my film shows that,” Lacey said. “To be honest I just need that opportunity to show people that I can play football and I can play with the best of the best. I’ve done it even against FBS teams when we’ve played them…You’ll get your opportunity, the thing you have to do is make the most out of that opportunity.”
The safety had few words to describe how he and his teammates feel about looking for that next opportunity.
“To be honest all four of us are hungry.”