(Stats Perform) - There's a pattern with the only players from the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League to be selected to the Reese's Senior Bowl:
Drake tight end Eric Saubert in 2017. Stetson tight end Donald Parham last year. Dayton tight end Adam Trautman this year.
In the year between Saubert and Parham, the Senior Bowl surely took a long look at another PFL tight end, San Diego's Ross Dwelley, who's become a key contributor with the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers.
"I think it's really that late-bloomer thing," Trautman said last week about the surprising, impressive run of tight ends coming from the FCS-level league.
"It's just kids that people missed out on when they were coming out of the (high school) recruiting process. Obviously, it worked out well for them. I just see the same thing happening for me."
Being at this week's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, is the next big step for Trautman. Hundreds of NFL personnel will evaluate players during the week of practices and events that lead into Saturday's premier college all-star game.
The majority of participants are from FBS programs, but Trautman is joined by two other FCS players on the North team, Southern Illinois strong safety Jeremy Chinn and Portland State tight end Charlie Taumoepeau, while South Carolina State offensive tackle Alex Taylor is on the South squad.
In Trautman, the Senior Bowl has a first-team FCS All-American and the first tight end to ever be named offensive player of the year in the PFL, which originated in 1993. He passes the eye test at an NFL-ready 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, devouring ground with long strides and excellent around the goal line with his soft hands and large catch radius.
"I've been looking forward to this (Senior Bowl) for a long time," Trautman said, "getting to play against those guys that got those scholarships and those opportunities that you didn't get. Really for me, it's all about going out there proving to everyone else that I belong. I believe personally that I belong."
If Trautman's Dayton career had gone as originally planned, he would have been throwing passes instead of catching them. Flyers coach Rick Chamberlin and his staff recruited him out of Michigan as a quarterback, but while the then-220-pound Trautman redshirted during the 2015-16 school year, he visualized a different way to break into the lineup.
"I thought I could bring a new dynamic to help out the team by moving to the tight end position with my athleticism," he said. "I went up to our offensive coordinator (Eric Evans) and he was kind of like, 'Really, you want to do that?' He's like, 'Give it some time.' About three days later, they threw me down at tight end for routes. During practice, I ran an over route, dove and caught it. That was basically the end of it. He told me to go get a white jersey on, made the move to tight end and haven't looked back."
Teammates will say Trautman wakes up with a purpose each day. Having earned a degree in electrical engineering, he loves how things work, so as he added the necessary weight yet still moved well for his new position (roughly 4.7-second speed in the 40-yard dash), he took to the nuances. He caught 171 passes for 2,295 yards and 31 touchdowns over the last four seasons. Against Jacksonville this past season, he caught four touchdowns in one half.
"Just the multiple things you can do with the position. Especially now, you see in the NFL with guys like (Kansas City's Travis) Kelce and (Philadelphia's Zach) Ertz. You can be such a big game-changer. At the point of attack in the run game, you can spring big runs, just create lanes for your guys. And then in the pass game, you can be the biggest mismatch nightmare for really anyone."
Austin King, Dayton's offensive coordinator the last three seasons and a former NFL offensive lineman, believes scouts will be impressed by Trautman's "ability to conceptualize the plays as they're being installed, to take adjustments in the classroom onto the field.
"He's great on the backside of stuff, cutting people off," King added. "He can continue to improve at the point of attack, but his willingness and his technique and the way he plays with hand leverage and his feet underneath him is pretty good for a tight end already."
Trautman, who is represented by Sports 1 Marketing agency, could work his way into being a second-day selection in the April 23-25 draft. Josh Buchanan, a leading evaluator of small-school prospects, lists Trautman as the top FCS prospect with a fourth-round grade.
Having already intrigued NFL teams, Trautman has more opportunities to showcase his skills following the Senior Bowl, including at the NFL Combine next month in Indianapolis and Dayton's pro day on campus in March.
"For me specially, obviously coming from a small school, don't be scared of anything, be confident," Trautman said. "You're going to the Senior Bowl and you're in this position because you're one of those guys.
"Coming from a school that's non-scholarship, to make it at that kind of level, you've got to be a grinder and a laser-focused individual to really get to that point."