It’s been a long journey to this stage for Hayden Plinke. After starting his career at Boise State and transferring to Portland State, he eventually found his way to UTEP where he spent the last three years of his college career. As he goes through the biggest job interview of his life, Plinke is doing his best to enjoy the ride.
“This is a dream come true,” Plinke said, “Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been my dream to be at the scouting combine and play in the NFL. It’s truly a blessing to be here.”
Plinke is one of two UTEP Miners invited to Indianapolis this week for the NFL Combine. He’s sharing this journey with his teammate, Aaron Jones, who completed his on-field workouts on Friday. Even as interviews were going on right across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium, Plinke was one of Jones’s biggest cheerleaders.
“I actually called in advance and requested to have Aaron as my roommate. He and I have just been talking it up and wishing each other the best. He’s awesome and he’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, on and off the field.”
Plinke became a top target for the Miners in 2016, finishing as the team leader in receptions (38) and touchdowns (8) and second on the team in receiving yards (456). At 6-4, 264 pounds, he has the frame that NFL teams are looking for at the position. While he broke out at UTEP, he also credits Coach Kugler for helping him through the process.
“For a lot of us who go through UTEP, Coach Kugler is a big reason why a lot of us go there. Being around him for three years, you don’t have to prepare much more after the season’s over. I’m blessed to have him in my corner as well through the process.”
Plinke also wants to be a good representative of UTEP, El Paso, and for those coming after him aspiring for the same thing he’s going through in Indianapolis this week.
“First off, picks up to everybody in El Paso. I was seven years old once upon a time and there were a lot of people that helped me get to this point, whether it was through high school or any of the transitions in college. They don’t get any of the glory through and I just can’t thank them enough. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Most draft boards have Plinke projected as a late-round prospect. During his time in Indy, he’s talked with the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks among others. He does like the idea of playing for Seattle because of the Pacific Northwest connection but as he prepares for his on-field workouts on Saturday, his goal is pretty simple.
“I just want to show how competitive I am. I think there are about 19 tight ends here and it’s a great room of talent. We’re all going to have a lot of fun tomorrow.”
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