Southern Illinois senior Jeremy Chinn grew up outside Indianapolis at a great time to be a Colts fan.
Before becoming one of the top college safeties in the country, Chinn cheered on legendary Colts such as Bob Sanders, a smart, hard-hitting safety from the University of Iowa.
Chinn never focused on one position as a young Colts fan. He had favorite players all over the field.
“I was very lucky (growing up),” he said. “Bob Sanders, Antione Bethea, Gary Brackett, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne … I could probably name the whole roster.”
Today, Chinn is on the doorstep of an NFL career himself as he takes part in Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘here’ yet,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity. I need to take advantage of it. There aren’t a lot of people who get this type of experience. I’m just happy to be in the position that I’m in.”
The work to get here
The Senior Bowl is unique in that the athletes are coached by NFL teams while scouts, head coaches and general managers from all 32 franchises are in attendance leading up to Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. game, which will air on NFL Network. Chinn is part of the North team, which will be coached by the Detroit Lions’ staff.
Chinn began working out New Year’s Day at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney, Texas, in preparation for the draft process. Along with speed, weightlifting and agility training, he is also working on positional drills.
“It just about getting my body perfect for the next level,” he said. “I’m trying to fine tune my game. I know it’s never going to be perfect, but I’m going to keep working until I get there.”
While training in Texas, Chinn said he’s been sure to focus on “every aspect of my game” in preparation for an NFL future.
“There’s always ways to improve,” he said. “No. 1, just learning more and more about the game in general. Also, things I pride myself on, like tackling and ball skills. Even though I’m good at something, there’s always room for improvement.”
The Carbondale effect
Chinn arrived at SIU as a 6-foot-1, 200-pound teenager. Four years, later, he is leaving as a polished 6-3, 212-pound strong safety who is a bona fide NFL prospect.
He earned All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors in four straight seasons, including first-team recognition as a junior and a senior.
According to SIU, Chinn is only the school’s third player in history to play in the Senior Bowl.
His 13 career interceptions are fifth-best in SIU history and his 243 career tackles ranks 25th all-time.
Chinn’s contributions to the SIU program, however, are nothing compared to what he says that SIU has given him.
“They were the first school to believe in me, so they did a whole lot for me,” he said. “Going to Southern Illinois, I never needed for anything. We had the best facilities, the best weight room, the best coaches. I had everything I needed to be successful at Southern Illinois, and I appreciate everything they did for me.”
The week ahead
Though practices begin Tuesday (and are televised by the NFL Network), plenty of work is being done today.
Chinn said he has a meeting on Monday with the New Orleans Saints, and he has also heard from his hometown Colts and the Dallas Cowboys. This week, he expects those meetings to pick up even more.
Though he’s one of only four FCS players at the Senior Bowl, he’s far from intimidated to be playing against dozens of players from major FBS conferences.
“Any type of competition, I’m all about it,” he said. “I’m ready to experience everything there is to experience. I just want to soak it all in and have fun.”
Dozens of NFL scouts visited Southern Illinois this season. But being in front of some of the game’s major names all in one place is unique.
“This is different,” Chinn said. “You’re going against the best seniors in the country. It’s different than (scouts) watching you do positional work at practice. I’m excited to meet with a lot of these teams and a lot of coaches and some of the important people at the top (of NFL franchises).”
Along with his NFL-ready skill set, Chinn is excited to show teams what he’s all about.
“I want to show them that I’m very coachable,” he said. “I love being coached. I’m a fast learner. I want to show that I can play with the best of them. I consider myself the top safety coming out and one of the top safeties in college football.”
Living out a dream
When Chinn was a youth watching his favorite Colts, joining an NFL team was always in the back of his mind, but in a different way than most kids.
“It’s one thing to make it to the NFL,” he said. “That wasn’t my dream. I want to go to the NFL, have a sustainable career and be one of the all-time greats.
“I’m nowhere near that right now,” he said. “But I’m just as hungry as I’ve ever been.”