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Nearly 200 players participate in New Jersey regional combine

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Close to 200 players, all eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft, gathered over the weekend at the New York Jets facility for the second of 10 NFL regional combines.

The goal of every player? To impress with speed, power or ability -- or any combination of the three -- and be selected to advance to the Super Regional on April 12 in Detroit.

The ultimate dream? To make it to the NFL. Despite some awfully steep odds.

"I think we all know it's a long shot," said Jamal Clay, a defensive back from the University of Maine. "But we all had dreams when we were little to play professional football. I know it's been a dream of mine."

None of these players was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which begins this week. The regional combines, obviously, operate on a much smaller scale. There is little media coverage and few NFL scouts. (All 32 teams will send representatives to the Super Regional at Ford Field.)

And, in this case, there were chilly conditions. The event was held at the Jets' field house, which is not heated. Not that these participants were complaining. The opportunity trumped all of that.

As Clay said, "Whatever it takes, by any means necessary."

"It's a dream. You dream about this, you think about it," said wide receiver Colin Larmond, who last played in 2012 at Boston College. "But in order to make it to your dream, you have to continue to drive, continue to persevere and chase after it."

Said receiver Jonah Fay from Brown University: "I just think I have some skills that might translate into the NFL, and I might be able to help some teams out. I might as well give it a shot."

The defensive player who likely had the best chance to advance to the Super Regional from Florham Park was Brian Brikowski, 25, who has played for the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the Indoor Football League and the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena League. A defensive end/outside linebacker, Brikowski has worked out for the Jets and Chargers.

"As long as I stay focused and keep at it, I know that one day I'm going to get that opportunity," Brikowski said.

Brikowski attended Monmouth University, where he said he played in only 17 college games.

"I'm already a long shot and I beat the odds," he said. "Why can't I do it again?"

Brikowski compares his game to that of Clay Matthews, adding "hands down." Confidence at this regional combine was not in short supply. Linebacker Melvin Booker, who played at Becker College, said his style of play "resembles more of a Patrick Willis. That's my idol. He's very explosive, very strong. He's a very predominant leader."

There was also no shortage of heart-tugging stories. Booker said he is pursuing his NFL dream in part because of his "big support group," which includes his mother and also to honor his older brother, Paris, who is deceased.

"I come from a small community," Booker said, "but we have a lot of heart."

Bryan Potter, who played at Lackawanna Junior College, said he plays "for the love of the game" and often thinks of his father and brother, who attended all of his games. Potter said his father died of a heart attack in 2010 and his brother was fatally shot in 2011.

"I know they wanted this for me," he said. "I want this for myself."

Potter is listed as an outside linebacker but said he'll play "safety, linebacker, corner, wherever." He'd like to be able to provide for his mother and another brother, who he said is recovering from a gunshot wound.

"I'm trying to get a break," Potter said, "and help my family."

The regional combines continue next weekend in Los Angeles.

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