Many NFL teams send scouts to college football all-star games to get an up-close look at future pro football talent, to talk to prospects, get to know them, figure out what makes them tick.
At the East-West Shrine Game this past January, however, Coastal Carolina wide receiver Matt Hazel wasn't approached by just any NFL scout. The general manager of the Green Bay Packers, the guy with the final say in the team's war room, sought him out.
"It went pretty well," said Hazel of his meeting with the Packers. "I know at the Shrine Game I talked to Ted Thompson, the G.M., after practice. He told me he liked what he's seen."
Despite coming from the small-school ranks of college football, Hazel didn't fly under the radar. As a senior, Hazel caught 70 passes for 990 yards and nine touchdowns, all career highs. His reward was being invited to both the East-West Shrine Game and NFL Combine, where he'd be the crosshairs of NFL decision makers like Thompson.
In 2013, Hazel helped lead the Chanticleers to a 12-3 record, advancing all the way to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, where they lost to the eventual national champions, North Dakota State.
Hazel may have played against a lower level of competition at Coastal Carolina, but he held his own when going up against the best of the best. In one non-conference game against South Carolina he was able to make six catches for 83 yards while frequently lining up across from cornerback Victor Hampton, another prospective NFL draft choice.
"South Carolina, that was really a stepping stone that definitely just showed me what I was going to go up against," said Hazel. "The SEC is the best conference. South Carolina was a Top 10 team. Just putting my talents against a Top 10 team really showed me what I needed to work on to get to this point."
From his perspective, the things Hazel needs to work on in order to make it at the next level are his strength, his speed, his quickness, but he also doesn't think he was out of place when presented with the opportunity to face top-tier competition.
At the NFL Combine, Hazel didn't run among the fastest players, clocking in at 4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but at 6' 1" and 198 lbs., he showed sufficient speed.
Hazel is ranked as the 38th ranked wide receiver in this year's draft class by NFLDraftScout.com and a potential late round draft choice.
With James Jones leaving in free agency, depth at the position has taken a hit in Green Bay. The Packers appear in good shape with the likes of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin as the top wide receivers, but keeping Aaron Rodgers well-stocked with a variety of weapons should be a top priority.
Perhaps that's where a player like Hazel will come into the picture.
Coastal Carolina football may not be on television every Saturday like most major college programs, but Hazel thanks alumni like Jerome Simpson of the Minnesota Vikings and Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers for putting the program on the map.
"A lot of people really don't know where Coastal is," said Hazel, "but as long as the scouts know, that's fine with me."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Coastal Carolina wide receiver Matt Hazel by Brian Carriveau.
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