Former UM, Stoneman Douglas lineman Corey Gaynor out to prove doubters wrong again as UNC draft prospect

AVENTURA — Corey Gaynor is no stranger to performing amid being slighted.

First, as a recruit out of Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, he was a three-star prospect who didn’t receive many offers from Power 5-conference schools. He was committed to one of the few he did have, Minnesota, before flipping to the Miami Hurricanes when the hometown program came calling late in the process.

He contributed immediately as a freshman on the 2017 UM team that got to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings with a 10-0 start. Then, two redshirt seasons, an extra year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a transfer within the ACC have him entering the 2024 NFL draft out of North Carolina after seven college seasons.

Of course, Gaynor is underestimated again. He didn’t receive an invitation to the NFL scouting combine weeks ago in Indianapolis, nor any of the postseason college all-star games, like the Senior Bowl.

While many draft prospects left their lasting impressions on pro teams at the combine, those who couldn’t have even more importance placed on their pro day.

Gaynor — not the biggest or most agile of blockers — falls into that category ahead of UNC pro day on Thursday. He has been back in South Florida training for it at Bommarito Performance Systems.

“Toughness, discipline, I’m smart and, along with toughness, goes resiliency,” Gaynor reeled off to the South Florida Sun Sentinel last month, when asked about the greatest attributes he can bring to an NFL team. “I’m able to battle through whatever. And I’ll always play higher than what they say about me.”

And Gaynor (6-foot-3, 305 pounds) can pull from that experience of outdoing his expectations in college, starting as a freshman, overcoming multiple injuries and creating longevity for himself over seven years at the collegiate level.

“True freshman starter, and there’s guys that were five-stars that don’t play football anymore,” Gaynor said. “The seven-year journey, that’s a lot of time. That’s a lot of football. I don’t know if you could find another person that played as much as I have.”

It’s noted to him, though, that these days there are college football players who got seven years, between a couple of redshirts and the COVID season.

“The key word was play, wasn’t it?” he quickly snapped back.

Indeed. Gaynor has played in 67 games over seven college seasons. He wasn’t just a borderline scholarship, end-of-the-roster seven-year athlete. He accumulated more than 50 starts at the college level, a captain and leader for much of that time.

He doesn’t take it as a snub, though, to get left out of the combine or Senior Bowl.

“There’s people that get paid a lot of money to pick those things, so I wouldn’t say snubbed,” he said. “I guess we’ll find out when we all get home.

“The combine and all the Senior Bowl stuff, all that adds more fuel to the fire that I have to play ball. It’s not the end of the world, and I’m excited for an opportunity anywhere.”

Gaynor’s journey involved him leaving South Florida five years into that college career. His final season at UM, he hurt his knee in camp, played through it for three games and had the 2021 campaign cut short after that. It led him to the ACC rival Tar Heels for his final two college seasons.

“It was hard leaving South Florida. What a fresh start could do to your career’s outstanding,” Gaynor said. “I just felt like there was some friction between me and the building and me and the fans, and I just needed a fresh start. It ended up being fantastic.”

It sure was. He was healthy for those two years and handed his previous school a pair of conference losses.

“When it comes to football, he’s the blueprint. He knows it all,” North Carolina wide receiver and draft prospect Tez Walker said. “One of the smartest offensive linemen I’ve been around, knows every spot on the field, offense and defense, knows what everybody’s doing. He’s communicating everybody’s job on the line. I can hear him when I’m lined up outside at receiver.”

In college, he played under six different offensive coordinators and five offensive line coaches.

“It solidified things I know about myself,” Gaynor said. “Resiliency and adjusting on the fly. It’s not the biggest, fastest and strongest that go to the NFL and stay in the NFL. It’s who’s the smartest, who can actually play football with a helmet on their head.”

One of those offensive line coaches he had was Butch Barry at Miami. Barry is back for a second season leading the Dolphins linemen, making him the first Dolphins O-line coach to be retained for a second season in nearly a decade (John Benton, 2014-15).

Blocking in many different schemes, Gaynor feels proficient in the wide zone, which the Dolphins run frequently. He has a sound understanding of it and can naturally explain the benefits.

“It kind of messes with the linebackers’ fits,” he said. “You get lateral displacement. You can always hit it back door. There’s a lot of land to be run on. There’s also a lot of room for error, TFLs (tackles for loss), missed assignments, guys coming off the edge. So, it’s a hit-or-miss play, and if you’re really good at it, it’s incredible.”

With pro day within a week away and the draft about a month away, Gaynor goes in with the same approach that has had him prove naysayers wrong.

“I’ve always played above what they say about me,” he said. “I’m excited to just go show them what I’m all about.”