On this day, Kelleher finds himself in South Bend at Notre Dame, where he’s making his third pro day stop in the last week.
Kelleher is in his third season as a Lions scout after interning with the team in 2008 and working as a scouting assistant for National Football Scouting and the National Invitational Camp (NFL Combine). His area of focus for the Lions encompasses Big 10 country – Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, with West Virginia thrown in for good measure.
A former tight end and offensive tackle for the Butler Bulldogs, Kelleher has an undergraduate degree in business marketing and two masters degrees in business administration and sports administration.
“It’s not that impressive,” Kelleher joked, when I asked about his advanced education. “Two masters degrees and I’m a scout.”
It just goes to show the passion Kelleher and other NFL scouts have to have for the game of football. Kelleher says he has college buddies in the business world earning more money than him, but Kelleher, most of the time, doesn't consider what he does “work.” Even after countless days on the road, nights in hotels and hours laboring over film and player reports.
A scout’s job is mostly behind the scenes, but vitally important when it comes to the decisions general manager Martin Mayhew and the Lions front office make come draft time and shortly after.
Notre Dame’s pro day starts early for Kelleher, who spent the previous night at a Fairfield Inn down the road instead of making the three and a half hour trek from Detroit early in the morning.
The dozen or so players working out arrive at the Guglielmo Athletics Complex on campus early to fill out paperwork and take the Wonderlic Test -- if they didn’t take it at the NFL Scouting Combine -- and tie up any other loose ends.
The players then move to the weight room, where their hands, arm length and wingspan are measured. The scouts are brought in and the players form a single line in alphabetical order. Their measurements are shouted out as they're then measured one by one for height and weight.
Kelleher meticulously records every inch and every pound on his clipboard.
The bench press is next. Some players who tested at the combine in Indianapolis at the end of February don’t participate in some of the pro day testing, but some are still observers nonetheless.
The coaches and scouts form a circle around the bench press, which must be somewhat intimidating for the player.
One by one they take their shoes off and any loose clothing, NFL futures hanging in the balance.
Teammates cheer each rep, at times begging for one more.
“Get your money,” one player shouted off to the side when a teammate started to tire after 20 reps.
Then it's off to vertical jump, which Kelleher helped run. The scouts and coaches split up duties to help run the pro day to keep everything operating smoothly and so they can get the most out of it.
Kelleher sets the bar to the appropriate height for each player, and again, scouts and coaches encircle the vertical bar as teammates gather round to cheer each other on.
“Come on, get up, Carl,” a teammate shouts to linebacker Carlo Calabrese.
It's onto the broad jump next, and then the 40-yard dash.
Two sets of benches, five rows each, are placed at either side of the finish line of the 40-yard dash. The test is taking place on the field at Notre Dame’s Loftus Center (indoor field).
Kelleher takes a seat right in the middle of the fourth row, stopwatch in hand.
There’s a special relationship between a scout and a good stopwatch, according to Kelleher. His is an Accusplit, which he’s had all three years with the Lions. Equipment manager Tim O’Neill gave it to him when Kelleher took the job in 2011.
“I’m sure it’s like an artist with his tools, some guys are very particular,” Kelleher said. “It’s just always treated me well.
“You kind of go through your first spring and it treated you well and you think your times were pretty good. I keep it in the same pocket. My fiancé will tell you how absent-minded I can be, so I’m just amazed I still have this thing after three years. I try and put it in the same place every time. The watch is key.”
Kelleher uses it for the next 45 minutes or so as players run their 40-yard dash, shuttle run and three cones drills.
Like a tennis crowd watching a competitive match, the scouts’ heads turn in unison as player’s run from one side of the benches to the other during drills. After each competitor is finished with a timed drill, the scouts compare their times and make sure they’re all roughly on the same page.
It’s then off to the position drills.
A SCOUT’S TAKE
This is the third time Kelleher has been on the Notre Dame campus in the last eight months. He say’s he likes to visit the major campuses in his area at least three times during the season. One such visit in August during training camp and then twice during the season, if possible. It’s all done in an effort to build a story about a player.
The tape for every college game comes into an NFL “dub” center and is distributed to all 32 NFL teams. Kelleher has access to all 13 of Notre Dame’s games from last season, including the bowl game, and it’s split into cut-ups of offense, defense and kicking.
He says at a minimum he’ll watch four games on a player from the previous season before attending a pro day. The higher prospects warrant a fifth, sixth, seventh or sometimes an entire season, according to him.
“I think for some of my top prospects last year I watched 10 or maybe an entire season,” he said. “At the end of the day, what you look for is essentially who the player is and who you think he can be and break down the varying facets of his game. You’re really trying to confirm that story.
“After four games you have a pretty good picture. After six games the picture should be very similar, if not exactly the same, but maybe that guy shows you something in those other two games and you say, ‘Hey, wait a second. Maybe I need to adjust my assessment a little bit.’
“Generally after that fifth, sixth or seventh game it’s not as dramatic as say bumping a guy up two rounds or dropping two rounds, you’re just saying, ‘Hey, he can do this,’ where I didn’t see it in my report before.”
It’s for that reason scouts like to look at the whole picture. Kelleher says game film is the most important layer, but the pro day is still important, as is the face-to-face interaction back in the fall.
It’s all chapters in a final story.
“The gathering of the character information and talking to coaches and getting their opinions of players and seeing (players) in their element is really a big part of your observation process,” Kelleher said.
“For me at least, it’s one of those things where if you can immerse yourself in it you’re more attentive and picking up the nuances of not just the players’ skillset, but also the whole picture, the whole story.
“You’re able to do that a lot better when you’re there. It’s always better to talk to guys face to face and ask different questions and recognize their facial expressions when they talk and all those things we pick up on are part of the story.”
It’s a story Kelleher has been putting together for over a year, when some of this year’s prospects were juniors.
All the film study, college visits and pro days lead to an eventual grade and consideration by Mayhew on draft day.
“Those guys do an outstanding job,” Mayhew said of his entire scouting staff. “A lot of teams have guys they call ‘information gatherers.’ Our guys are evaluators. They truly go out and evaluate these players’ skill level and I rely on those guys a lot during the draft process and during the draft meetings. They are all very skilled at what they do.
“Joe is a young guy, who really has shown a lot of potential as far as learning that job and he’s done an outstanding job for us.”