Zack Wagenmann has made his name on football fields across the nation. He's played games in front of nearly 100,000 rabid – and opposing – fans and in venues that've drawn hardly more than a Grizzly spring scrimmage.
But when Wagenmann put cleat to turf last weekend, he couldn't help but feel awestruck. In Indianapolis this past Sunday, perhaps a serendipitous nudge from the calendar, the former Montana standout set foot on an NFL field for the first time.
"It was surreal," said Wagenmann, who worked out at Lucas Oil Stadium last week as part of the invite-only NFL Scouting Combine. "You're looking up at all the Colts banners. ... When you have a chance to catch your breath it's just, 'Wow.'"
Wagenmann, Montana's record-setting defensive end, was the fourth Griz to earn a trip to the Combine since 2012. He joined some of the top college football players in the nation during the four-day showcase.
The prospective pros hardly had a minute to think during the whirlwind week, Wagenmann said. Though each position group worked out on the field inside Lucas Oil Stadium just one day, visits with scouts and coaches and doctors and media members filled the void "sun up to sun down" as NFL franchises studied whom to pick when the draft rolls around at the end of April.
The spectacle was almost overwhelming – "Testing in a controlled situation versus when you're at the end of a long week in Indy, it's definitely a different experience," Wagenmann conceded – but the Missoula native had a little bit of training ahead of the NFL's premier scouting event.
The 6-foot-3 1/2, 247-pounder had seen some of the same thing at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
"We'd had some meetings like that, just informal sit-downs talking with scouts," said Wagenmann of his experience at the college all-star game in January. "It gave me a heads up, good preparation for this past weekend."
While interviews and meetings make up a good portion of the week, the workouts on national television hold the marquee spot. Wagenmann had been preparing for Sunday since his graduation from UM last December, working with California strength trainers in the Bay Area this winter.
The long hours at the gym paid off as the Missoula Sentinel grad showed his athleticism and explosiveness at the Combine. He tied for the quickest defensive lineman time in the three-cone agility drill and had top-five marks in the 20-yard shuttle run, the 60-shuttle and the vertical jump.
"It's tough to tell right now, but looking at the numbers compared to how I performed relative to the group, we're happy with those numbers," said Wagenmann, one of 55 defensive linemen and ends in Indianapolis. "... We wanted to show I am an athlete, try to get rid of any misconceptions of the whole small-school thing. I can move in small spaces as well as straight away speed."
Wagenmann made the trip east from California, where he is once again this week, with his strength trainers as well as fellow defensive lineman Tyeler Davison. The former Fresno State tackle and Wagenmann's housemate in California also competed at the Combine.
With the emphasis on quickness, Wagenmann's Combine performance did have some holes – namely his showing in the strength-testing bench press workout. He repped 225 pounds just 14 times, the lowest at his position.
Wagenmann actually lifted 17 times, though the last three were ruled insufficient because of his form. Even that is still far on the low end of the spectrum for ends or linebackers.
"It's something I've got to continue to develop. That was not my best showing; I had my goal and I definitely didn't hit it," he said. "I would have loved to sit down and do it 30 times, but that's just not going to happen right now."
There is a second chance for improvement, though. Wagenmann and a handful of other Grizzlies will work out for scouts at Montana's annual pro day March 9 back in Missoula.
"The beautiful thing about that is the pro day in a couple weeks, if I choose to, I have the opportunity to redo any of those (tests)," he added.
It's all in an effort to impress one of the NFL's 32 general managers and convince them to take a chance on an edge-rusher from off the grid in Montana. Wagenmann – and all of his Grizzly supporters – will find out if its enough the weekend of April 30 when the draft begins.
Then Wags could find himself setting foot on NFL turf a second and even more exciting time.