Carolina Panthers

Florida’s D.J. Humphries – at 305 pounds – ready for his big moment

Florida’s D.J. Humphries (70)  waves to the crowd during a game against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium on Nov. 24, 2012 in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida’s D.J. Humphries (70) waves to the crowd during a game against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium on Nov. 24, 2012 in Tallahassee, Fla. Getty Images

When he would finish the power lifts, protein shakes and pasta dishes, sometimes D.J. Humphries just needed some more savory calories during his predraft training.

Fortunately for Humphries and the other NFL hopefuls who prepared for the scouting combine at the Exos facility in Gulf Breeze, Fla., there was a seafood place called Shaggy’s right across the bridge on Pensacola Beach.

Besides the pretty, oceanfront view, Shaggy’s offers an assortment of tempting dishes that likely wouldn’t have passed muster with the Exos nutritionists.

Humphries, the former Mallard Creek High and Florida offensive tackle, was a fan of oysters Rockefeller.

“I got really hooked,” Humphries said. “I’d get a dozen or two at a time. I’d go and crush those, and then I’d get some fried green tomatoes.”

Eating was part of Humphries’ training regimen.

The 6-foot-5 Humphries played his junior season at Florida around 285 pounds, big enough to handle most SEC pass rushers but smallish by NFL left tackle standards.

Humphries gained 15 pounds while reducing his body fat during his six weeks at Exos, and most draft experts gave him a first-round grade after a solid combine performance. Humphries is becoming a popular choice in many mock drafts for his hometown Carolina Panthers, who pick 25th.

But some draft analysts – including NFL Network’s Mike Mayock – wonder whether the added bulk will limit Humphries’ athleticism, which has been his calling card since he first arrived at Mallard Creek hoping to play tight end.

“I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” Humphries said. “I think God blessed with me with a lot talent and also blessed me with a lot of drive to work with that talent.”

‘My dad was Superman’

Humphries’ parents went to high school together in Union, S.C., and were 15 when their son was born. Humphries lived in Union through middle school, when he moved to Charlotte with his dad, also D.J. The elder Humphries played basketball and football at Presbyterian College, earning Division II All-American honors after catching 95 passes as a senior. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2002, before playing two seasons in the Arena League.

Humphries recalls watching his dad play for the Carolina Cobras in 2004 during the team’s final season in Charlotte. With its padded walls and small field dimensions, the Arena League was not for the faint-hearted.

“I thought my dad was Superman,” Humphries said last week during a phone interview from Gainesville, Fla. “I saw him get knocked over the wall, and he hopped right back up, jumped over the wall and got back in the formation. My dad is tough as nails.”

As a young father, the older Humphries practiced a lot with his son. Their drills were more physically demanding than tossing the ball in the backyard.

The elder Humphries, listed at 6-4 and 203 pounds when he played for the Cobras, would act as a pass-rushing defensive end so his son could work on his pass-blocking sets.

That lasted until Humphries caught his dad in the ribs with a two-handed “punch.”

“He was like, ‘Yeah, I’m done with that,’ ” Humphries said. “That was the last one-on-one rep we did.”

But Humphries had plenty of opportunities to hone his craft at Mallard Creek, where Mavericks coach Michael Palmieri dashed Humphries’ dreams of playing tight end.

“I told him you’re going to play left tackle here, and the rest is history,” Palmieri said. “With his reach and size, I just thought he would be a really athletic tackle.”

Former Mallard Creek offensive coordinator Aaron Brand said Humphries initially tried to play left tackle in a right-handed stance, something Brand corrected before Humphries’ junior year.

In addition to his high school practices, Humphries worked with Mo Collins, the former NFL lineman and West Charlotte coach who died last fall at 38.

During one of their first sessions, Collins told Humphries, “If you’re going to be a monkey, be a gorilla.”

In other words, “If you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it all the way,” Humphries explained.

Brand, now the coach at Vance, said Humphries was not afraid to work.

“He was tenacious,” Brand said. “He was self-motivated, and he paid tremendous attention to detail.”

Palmieri agreed.

“He really didn’t take too many days off,” Palmieri said. “That’s the key to developing – working when the coaches aren’t watching. When everybody else was home, he was putting extra work in, and it’s paid off for him.”

Gator chomp to chomping everything

By the end of his junior season at Mallard Creek, Humphries was one of the highest-rated offensive linemen in the country and was being recruited by “pretty much every school in the country,” Palmieri said.

Wanting to go away for school, Humphries chose Florida the summer before his senior year. Humphries enrolled at Florida early and played 12 games as a freshman, including three starts.

He was the Gators’ starter at left tackle as a sophomore before a knee injury ended his season after seven games. Humphries was solid last season but struggled against Missouri’s Shane Ray.

Ray, projected as a top-10 pick, had two sacks against the Gators, including a strip-sack after beating Humphries.

Despite being told by the NFL draft advisory board to stay in school, Humphries declared for the draft in January. A day later, he was at Exos’ training center on the Florida panhandle, working out and taking in 5,000 calories every meal, not including snacks.

Humphries said he ate a lot of fish, chicken, pasta, rice and vegetables, plus the oysters and fried green tomatoes he’d order when he and Florida State offensive lineman Cam Irvin would head to Shaggy’s.

“I was on the stuff-my-face diet,” Humphries said. “If I wanted to eat something, I was going to eat it.”

Humphries said he arrived at Exos at 290 pounds with 25 percent body fat, and left at 305 with 19 percent body fat.

After weighing in at 307 pounds at the combine, Humphries ran the 40 in 5.12 seconds, had a vertical jump of 31 inches and showed good footwork in the drills.

In an offensive tackle group that many experts believe is lacking in left tackles, NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah thinks Humphries can start on the left side from Day 1.

But Mayock, Jeremiah’s NFL Network colleague, has doubts Humphries can be effective 15 to 20 pounds heavier than his playing weight at Florida.

“I’m not sure he can carry it, and I’m not sure it’s great weight,” Mayock said during a conference call. “When you draft him in the first round, what are you really getting?”

Mayock believes when Humphries is in great shape, he’s a “290-pound left tackle who’s going to be an outstanding pass protector and is always going to have to work with great technique to be a good run blocker.”

Humphries doesn’t think he’ll have a problem maintaining a weight that allows him to be quick enough to handle a speed rush and strong enough to take on bull rushes.

“My metabolism is slowing down a little bit, which is going to help me out,” he said. “Whatever I need to be great in the NFL and help my organization win games, I’m ready to do it.”

Panthers showing big interest

The Panthers are among the teams that have shown interest in Humphries, putting him through a workout in Gainesville and bringing him to Charlotte for a visit.

Humphries enjoyed being a visitor in the city where his father still lives.

“It actually was fun because I lived around Concord Mills, so I’ve never really experienced downtown,” Humphries said. “So it was cool to walk around and see downtown.”

Brand, the former Mallard Creek offensive coordinator, said he has talked with scouts from Carolina and San Diego about Humphries.

“They’re very interested,” Brand said of the Panthers. “I just don’t think he’ll make it that far.”

Brand said scouts wanted to know what Humphries was like outside of football, and whether teammates and teachers liked him.

“He was the best player with the best personality and the most fun to be around,” Brand said he told them. “Everyone gravitated toward him because he was so fun-loving and he’s so genuine.”

While quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota and several other top players turned down invitations to attend the draft, Humphries will be in Chicago this week. He’ll be joined by his parents, grandparents, half-siblings and girlfriend, a student at Winston-Salem State.

Following months of training, traveling, working out and carb-loading, Humphries will be happy to have it behind him.

“Man, I don’t know. I’m ready to see what goes down,” Humphries said when asked if he has any indication which team might take him.

“I’m just ready for it to happen so I know who I’m playing for. I’m ready to sit back and see where the chips fall. I’m ready to be in a room with my peers waiting for their dreams to come true. And patiently waiting for mine to come true, too.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

D.J. Humphries

Position: Offensive tackle

Height: 6-5

Weight: 307

Hometown: Union, S.C.

High school: Mallard Creek

College: Florida

Highlights: (At Mallard Creek) Rated the No. 1 recruit in North Carolina by Rivals.com. … Named a high school All-American by USA Today, ESPN and Rivals.com. … Played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. … (At Florida) Made Sporting News’ Freshman All-American team in 2012. … Also named to the SEC Coaches’ All-Freshman team. … Started 10 games last season as a junior, missing two because of injury.

Did you know? His father played football and basketball at Presbyterian College, where he was Division II All-American wide receiver. The elder Humphries signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2002 and played two years in the Arena League, including a season with the Carolina Cobras in Charlotte.

NFL Draft

Round 1: Thursday, 8 p.m.

Rounds 2-3: Friday, 7 p.m.

Rounds 4-7: Saturday, noon

▪ The Panthers draft 25th in all seven rounds plus they have two compensatory draft picks in the fifth round (169, 174).

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