Amidst Mississippi State’s NFL Pro Day featuring a possible first-round pick defensive lineman, the best quarterback in the school’s history and a host of highly-decorated NFL hopefuls, the surprise story of the day was MSU’s Lithuanian track star Tautvydas Kieras. The school record holder in the discus throw, TK, as he’s called, measured in at 6’3” and 271 pounds while pumping out 24 reps on the 225-pound bench press, running an unofficial 4.69 40-yard dash, recording a vertical leap of 35” and a broad jump of 9’8”.
For comparison’s sake, his broad and vertical jumps were tied for the highest of any athlete measured on Thursday.
But here’s the catch: Kieras has never played a down of football in his life. Aiming to play defensive end, Kieras just put a helmet and pads on for the first time this spring after he began training for football back in January.
His presence and performance leave two questions: what brought him to this point, and does he have a future from here?
Starting with the first goes back to Kieras’s days in the gym as a discus and shot-put specialist for MSU. During workouts over the years, he got to know an MSU professor and fellow gym rat named Gary Templeton. Templeton saw how strong Kieras was, with a large frame to match, and kept hounding the track and field star about giving football a shot. Finally, last semester, Templeton convinced Kieras to go out and try some drills while he hand-timed him. Templeton knew the young man was strong, but didn’t know quite how fast and agile he was.
“You’ve got to go for it,” Templeton told Kieras after seeing him run.
“That’s crazy,” Kieras remembers replying. “There’s no way.”
After recording his numbers, Templeton showed Kieras how favorably he compared with people already in the NFL. There was certainly a great deal of work to be done, but he had a good foundation.
“I got motivated,” Kieras said of the workout and its resulting numbers. “I thought,’ if these guys can do it, I can do it.’ I can punch the baggie, hit the guy, run the route.”
As Kieras trained, Templeton worked on finding an agent. Eventually, videos were sent out as Kieras found representation and a place to begin his work – Athletic Gaines, a training facility in Las Vegas, where Kieras and his fiancé now live. January 4, hardly two months before Pro Day at MSU, his training began.
The transition was a unique one, particularly for someone who entered with no prior football experience, but as scouts noted and Kieras himself confirmed, his discus training was surprisingly good preparation for the tests and drills associated with Pro Day.
In particular, the explosion needed for throwing events helped him literally and figuratively skyrocket up the charts on the jumps. The movements as a thrower trained his hips to be loose and his feet to be quick, both advantageous qualities for football players.
“Coaches were so surprised that I had never done stuff,” Kieras said of his initial workouts in Las Vegas. “They’d tell me to do something, first or second try I’d do it correctly. It might not look as fluid, but then the fifth or sixth time, I look like another football player … It helped me a lot, discus.
“It was just a couple practices,” he continued, “but I felt comfortable with it. Tell me to run, I run. Tell me to knock the guy out, I knock the guy out. I felt comfortable.”
However, while the measurable are there, the question remaining may be the hardest one to answer: can he actually play football?
He’s a developmental project, for sure, but Kieras looked comfortable in positional drills at Pro Day. One person working him called him “very coachable” as he consistently asked questions and searched for ways to improve. While not a day one player, one would imagine, his performance on Thursday may have secured his chance to show what he can do in a camp this summer.
“He wouldn’t be a bad invite,” one scout remarked after watching Kieras finish the 40-yard dash. “He’s put up good numbers.”
Said another in attendance, “Gotta be patient. He’s a freak though.”
For Kieras to make it in the NFL, he’ll have to develop quickly and show he has more than just great measurables. Can he make reads in a split second? Can he take hits and dish them out, too? Is he properly conditioned? Playing defense in the NFL is about much more than jumping high and running fast. But, as he showed at Pro Day, it’s not a bad start.
“With discus, it was something I think I did my best and it was time to move on,” he said. “But with football, I love challenges, and this was the biggest one I’ve ever had in my life. So, I took it and I embraced it and now it’s going well for me, so far.”