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Ex-teammates vouch for Tunsil, Nkemdiche at regional combine

NEW ORLEANS -- Laremy Tunsil had not been on the Ole Miss campus longer than a semester when defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton, then a redshirt sophomore, heard their names called.

"The coach called him and me to go against each other," Hamilton said. "I'm thinking, 'He doesn't know me.' And when we came off the ball, it was a crash."

The reverberation was still felt Sunday.

Hamilton recalled the moment on Sunday, as he stood in the middle of the New Orleans Saints' indoor practice facility during a midday break at the last of five weekly NFL regional scouting combines, each held at a different team facility around the country.

Tunsil is considered the front-runner to go No. 1 overall to the Tennessee Titans in the 2016 NFL Draft, and he's one of three former Ole Miss players (Tunsil, DL Robert Nkemdiche and WR Laquon Treadwell) that could go in the top 20 picks this year. Hamilton will take a steeper climb to reach the NFL.

He and former Ole Miss teammate Aaron Morris, who attended the New Orleans combine but chose to not participate, were like hundreds of other Power-Five-school NFL prospects, left uninvited to the NFL Scouting Combine last month in Indianapolis and having to find a way onto NFL draft boards through other means.

But unique to those two have been their daily hands-on experiences with two of the top-rated offensive and defensive line prospects in the draft while also playing in the highly regarded SEC.

In addition to Tunsil, Hamilton and Morris were teammates of Nkemdiche, a sure first-rounder were it not for concerns about off-field issues and his inconsistency on the field.

Their relative notoriety can make a player such as Hamilton, listed at 6-foot-3 and 319 pounds, appear overlooked.

"I guess you can say that because of the fact that I'm in this situation I'm in right now," Hamilton said.

He was one of eight former college players from Power-Five conferences to participate in the two-day New Orleans combine that included 345 registrants.

"I'm here seizing the moment, trying to get better," Hamilton said. "I want to get my numbers better. I'm going to work harder. I'm going to get this right."

The run-stopping Hamilton never missed a game in his last three seasons. He started 12 of the 13 games Ole Miss played in 2015. He posted 29 tackles (3.5 for loss), including one sack.

To practice opposite Tunsil provided some measure of perspective about the NFL. Hamilton recalled that first time against Tunsil -- when the coach called their names -- as a defining moment for how Tunsil held his ground.

"I was like, 'Yep, he's ready.' He was just coming in. He didn't have the material he has now," Hamilton said.

That material now includes better technique.

"His feet, oh my God," Hamilton said. "His hands. Power. Exactly what the NFL needs."

For Morris, a senior whose sophomore and junior seasons were shortened by two ACL tears to the same knee, playing the left guard position next to Tunsil made him "work harder," he said.

"It makes everybody work harder because everybody tries to play at the high level he does," he said. "I think it shows in the type of seasons we had."

Both said Nkemdiche should be viewed more for his football ability than off-field matters. Nkemdiche was suspended from the Sugar Bowl last season after he was charged with marijuana possession following a fall from a hotel window. Nkemdiche said Tunsil was with him in the hotel room when he addressed the incident at the NFL Scouting Combine last month.

"Rob, he's a good person," Hamilton said. "Of course, everybody knows he's been caught up in some bad stuff. He's a good person. Nobody is perfect."

Added Morris: "Most people probably think he's a trouble-maker because of the recent trouble. But if you sit down and talk to him, he's really a good guy."

The best chance for Hamilton and Morris to make a positive showing for NFL coaches and scouts will be at the Ole Miss pro day on March 28. The presence of Tunsil, Nkemdiche and Treadwell will give them an audience far larger than the one they had on Sunday, which included few scouts.

Hamilton on Sunday ran what he called "a mid-range 40" during which he felt a pop in his right hamstring and subsequently landed short of his broad and vertical goals.

"I need my numbers," he said. "I need to maintain a 5-flat running the 40. I need to jump (30 inches), at least, in the vert. I need to jump (nine feet) on the broad, for (NFL evaluators) to open their eyes and say they want to look at me."

Until then, most eyes will stay on those first-round prospects.

"I'm trying to do whatever it takes," Hamilton said. "I think I got what it takes. I have to show them."

Follow Christopher Dabe on Twitter @CMDABE.

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