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UCF’s Tony Guerad hopeful for ‘one shot’ in the NFL

Tony Guerad was given a second chance at Central Florida. Now he wants a chance in the NFL.

UCF

Tony Guerad

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle knows he could go undrafted but hopes to turn some heads Thursday at the UCF pro day in Orlando.

“I just need one shot, one team to believe in me,” Guerad told me as he prepares for next month’s NFL Draft. “I’m a run-stopper. I do really good against the run and can play in any defense.”

After collecting 114 tackles, including 19 for loss, and 5 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons, Guerad was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Pasadena in January. He shined all week at the Rose Bowl and was one of the more dominant players at the NFLPA game.

He showed he could play inside or outside in a 3-4 or 4-3 system and impressed while playing nose tackle at the NFLPA Bowl.

“I felt like I did real good in the practices and I talked with like 20 teams out there. Everybody said I had a good week,” said Guerad, who has a knack for playing even bigger than a 300-pound D-lineman.

Despite “good results” in California, Guerad was not invited to the NFL Combine earlier this month. While disappointing, Guerad is ready to prove himself Thursday.

“I feel like most of the time in college, I was underrated,” Guerad said. “I put up some good numbers in 2016 and 2017. It’s all good though. I know I’m gonna bounce back on my pro day.”

Guerad hopes to prove to teams that he’s a versatile and fundamentally sound player. A good showing Thursday could propel him from an undrafted free agent to a possible sixth-round pick.

“I feel like I’m real underrated and I just have to prove doubters wrong,” Guerad said. “I take it as motivation.”

He has another motivating factor – his young son. In less than a year, Guerad’s life was changed forever.

Guerad was dismissed from the Central Florida football team in October 2015 and then found out he was going to be a father early in 2016. He admits now that he was scared when he found out his girlfriend was going to have a baby.

Fortunately for the Fort Lauderdale native, he had a wonderful support system in place with his parents – Jesus and Cheryl.

“They told me, ‘We have a team and we’re not going to be let you be by yourself,’” Guerad said of the support he received. “It was motivational. I was happy I was having a son and I want to do everything I can to provide for him.”

His future in football, however, was clouded as longtime Knights coach George O’Leary retired following a winless 2015 campaign. Guerad was ready to transfer from UCF, but reached out to new coach Scott Frost and was allowed to return to the club.

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UCF defensive tackle Tony Guerad

“I thought this might be my second chance to get back on the team,” Guerad recalled. “I called Coach Frost and told him about my situation and what happened. He said he’d get back to me and a couple weeks later, he called me and talked to me and my mom and said, ‘I’m gonna bring you back on the team.’

“I was just so happy from there and took it and ran with it. They fell in love with me and I fell in love with the coaches and just blessed to be a part of those two seasons under Coach Frost.”

The decision was mutually beneficial as Guerad was part of a UCF defense that helped turn around a program that went 0-12 in 2015 to run the table with a 13-0 mark last season.

“We got both sides of it,” Guerad said. “That 2015 season was a hard year for everybody, but it was a learning experience, too. It humbled all of us.

“The 2017 year was really special.”

The Knights capped their perfect campaign with a convincing 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, but were only ranked 12th in the College Football Playoff poll. Guerad said the CFB Playoff rankings were insulting to a team that “deserved to get a shot at the playoff.”

“It’s hard to go undefeated,” Guerad said. “We took it real personal. We took it as a slap in the face, but we knew we had to keep on playing and block all that stuff out.”

After helping to hold Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson to 71 yards on 23 carries in Atlanta, Guerad left Orlando to train in Dallas. From there, it was a trip out to California for the NFLPA Bowl and then back to Florida for more NFL Draft training.

“I’m just soaking it all up,” Guerad said. “It’s a blessing. I’m just real happy I’m going through this process because some people with they could go through this.”

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Shaquem Griffin, left, and Tony Guerad

Guerad now hopes to join his best friends Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin in the NFL. Shaquill, who played cornerback at UCF, was a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks last year. Shaquem is a one-handed linebacker who was the MVP of the Peach Bowl and has three career interceptions and five fumble recoveries. Guerad thinks some people doubt Shaquem because he has one hand and aren’t focused on the fact that the first-team All-American Conference player is a superior athlete.

“It bothers me because he’s a freak. They were shocked he ran that fast (4.38-second 40-yard dash at the combine), but I already knew because I played with him and be with him like 24-7,” Guerad said. “He’s a really good ball player. He’s blessed. He’s just good everywhere.”

Like Guerad, Griffin will participate in Thursday’s pro day and both hope to boost their draft stock.