The road to the 2023 NFL Draft starts in Mobile, Alabama.
Acclaimed Florida A&M football edge rusher Isaiah Land will participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Saturday in a chance to showcase his skillset before NFL coaches and scouts.
Land forwent his final year of eligibility in November to declare for April 27-29’s NFL Draft in Kansas City.
The Senior Bowl is more than just a postseason all-star game for NFL hopefuls. It’s also a career preparation.
Land has been on a tight schedule that includes workouts, media sessions, and team meetings since arriving in Mobile on Sunday ― six days before kickoff.
“It reminds me of a fall camp-type schedule, but I enjoy it though,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of the NFL since I was a little kid, so it’s a culture shock to be around the best players in the country.
“Everybody’s a giant. They’re the best of the best and it’s an honor to be in the same room as players that they call the best players in the country. I’m just taking it all in.”
Land held invitations from the Senior Bowl and Feb. 2’s East-West Shrine Bowl. He ultimately chose the former in December.
“They perceive (the Senior Bowl) as more prestigious,” he said. “I wanted to show my talents against the best SEC and ACC players. I’m honored to be evaluated and compete alongside them.”
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Land has been training in Fort Lauderdale since December following a 9-2 season with the Rattlers after beating rivals Bethune-Cookman in the 2022 Florida Blue Florida Classic.
“It’s a football grind without the school aspect,” he said. “I do two workout sessions six days a week and my only day off is Sunday. It’s a lot of treatment of the body because this is how I’m going to make my money.
“So, I’ve been eating differently ― not eating a lot of fried food, drinking a lot of water, and watching my diet. I haven’t had Hungry Howie’s or pizza in general since I left Tallahassee.”
Known for his quick feet and ability to get to opposing quarterbacks allowed Land to earn the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award which is rewarded as the top defensive player in FCS football. He led all of Division I with 19 sacks that year.
In 2022, Land was named 2022 All-SWAC First Team defensive lineman after tallying 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
“I think about FAMU and where I come from everyday,” he said. “Doing well (at the Senior Bowl) will say a lot about the guys back home. I got to dominate and execute because people around the world don’t really know too much about FAMU. And if they do, they don’t see us as the same level as the Georgia’s and Alabama’s.
“It’s a great opportunity to show people that even though I came from FAMU, I can play just as well as anyone else.”
Land, 6-foot-3, 226 pounds, plans to take his hand out the dirt and drop back to play the linebacker role on the next level.
“It was a big transition and I wasn’t as confident switching over since I never played it,” Land said. “But being around guys that played the position in the NFL and having them tell me that I have the athletic ability to play any type of linebacker gave me the confidence in knowing I can really do this at the next level.
“I can’t wait to see how I perform at linebacker because I never got to play it in college.”
As HBCU football standouts chase NFL dreams, familiar foes turn into allies
Land and 2022 Southwestern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Aubrey Miller Jr. of Jackson State are the only two Historically Black College and University Players that will play in Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
The once college rivals will play on the same side Saturday, on the American Team. Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will be the head coach and New England Patriots defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington will be the defensive coordinator.
“(Aubrey and I) are in the same position group and have been learning the playbook together,” Land said. “We make sure we sit by each other in meetings because we got the most in common here because we come from the same struggles and background.
“It’s an honor to be a part of the small percentage of HBCU players that made it here because they told us 80 percent of the Senior Bowl gets drafted with 40 percent going in the first four rounds.
“They got us here for a reason and they see us just as good as the rest of the guys in the draft.”
The 2023 Senior Bowl will kickoff at 2:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, Feb. 4 at University of South Alabama’s Hancock Whitney Stadium ― a day ahead of Land’s 23rd birthday.
“I’m excited,” Land said. “Being an athlete, I embrace being nervous as extra adrenaline going into the game. I’m happy that I have a little bit of jitters because I know it’s going to help me in the long run.”
Land is currently projected as a sixth-round selection of April’s draft according to Sports Illustrated’s Draft Bible.
He will also participate in February’s weeklong NFL Combine ahead of draft day.
2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl Game Information
Who: American Team vs. NationalTeam
when: Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023 at 2:30 p.m. ET
where: Hancock Whitney Stadium, Mobile, Alabama
How to watch: NFLNetwork
Gerald Thomas, III covers Florida A&M University Athletics for the Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @3peatgee.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: FAMU Football: Isaiah Land’s journey to the NFL begins in Mobile