The differences between playing in the NFL and at a small NCAA Division II school are only too obvious.
But when Mackenzie Bernadeau looked out of his bus window and saw the flashing lights of police cars surrounding the Carolina Panthers' motorcade on its way to Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field last Thursday, he knew one thing:
He wasn't at Bentley College any more.
“A police escort,” said Bernadeau, an offensive lineman who was chosen by the Panthers in the seventh round of the spring NFL draft and was the 250th overall (out of 252) taken. “That was something new to me.”
Yet despite the long odds Bernadeau faces of making the Panthers, he does have a few things going for him.
He was, after all, just two spots away from being the draft's “Mr. Irrelevant.” That distinction, going to the final player picked, went to Idaho linebacker David Vobora when he was chosen by St. Louis.
Bernadeau also is the only player ever drafted from Bentley, an academically rigorous Division II school in his hometown of Waltham, Mass. The Panthers became interested in him even after he missed the second half of his senior season with a knee injury and didn't play in postseason all-star games.
And Bernadeau (pronounced Bur-NAR-doe) has shown Panthers coaches he'll do whatever it takes to make the team by switching from guard (a position where the Panthers stocked up during the off-season) to center.
“This has all been exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” said Bernadeau.
Bernadeau hurt his knee against Pace (N.Y.) in Bentley's sixth game of the 2007 season, the first time in his life he'd been injured. But if he was a long shot for the NFL before that, his prospects were suddenly even more fragile. Ignored by the all-star games, he also wasn't invited to the league's scouting combine in Indianapolis in February.
Bernadeau was, however, allowed to participate in Boston College's pro day, when NFL scouts went to Chestnut Hill to check out Eagles' prospects. That was where Panthers offensive line coach Dave Magazu and offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson spotted him.
“I did pretty well,” said Bernadeau, who is 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. “They had some pretty good offensive linemen at BC and I played well in the drills and did well with the (weight) lifting.”
The Panthers, who had three seventh-round picks, drafted Bernadeau just before the closing bell rang. And he's hoping that the switch from guard to center might give him a better shot at making the team, or at least sticking with the practice squad should injuries befall starter Ryan Kalil or backup Geoff Hangartner..
“Part of being an offensive lineman is being flexible,” said Panthers coach John Fox. “You need a third center in this league.”
And making the transition from Division II to the NFL is complicated enough without figuring out a new position.
“For a rookie, it can be a little mind-boggling,” said Fox.