For three seasons, Su'a Cravens was a defensive force for the USC Trojans. Now he's working to convince NFL coaches that his all-around athleticism and ability to play multiple positions will make him an elite NFL player.
In preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine, Cravens trained at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, California.
STACK had the opportunity to spend a day with Cravens to get a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of an NFL prospect. Here's what we learned.
He lived at a hotel during his Combine preparation
Cravens lived at a hotel during his time training for the NFL Combine. His room was essentially a small apartment, with a kitchen, living room and bedroom.
His dog hates to leave his side
Cravens' dog Nix goes everywhere with him. During our interview, we had to put the young and incredibly friendly bluenose pitbull in the kitchen. Let's just say Nix was not happy with the situation. When the interview was finished, the two happily reunited.
The hardest part about his living situation was dealing with nutrition
Living alone right out of college has its challenges. For Cravens, it was all about sticking to a healthy diet.
"Eating right. That has been the hardest part probably. Just make sure you stay on a disciplined diet," he said.
Fortunately for him, he had a carefully crafted nutrition plan with packaged meals delivered to his room containing the perfect number of calories and nutrients needed to optimize his training results.
But his commitment to nutrition paid off
"I weighed in when I first got there at 238 pounds and 18 percent body fat. Now I'm at 223 pounds and 13 or 14 percent body fat. It's exciting seeing your body change like that."
He doesn't party
"Everybody goes out to party. I don't party. I don't drink alcohol. There's no point in me going out. I don't want to be the person who is sober and everyone is drunk. It's just not a crowd I really want to associate with. Me, I'm more of a relax at home, watch TV, play video games, watch cartoons or chill with my guys that I've known my whole life."
He drives a badass navy blue Camaro
He was a quiet guy in high school
"As an athlete in high school, I think I was a quiet guy," he recalled. "I think from my freshman year to my senior year I changed a lot. From my freshman year, I was a kid playing varsity scared of all the older guys, looking for a place to fit in and trying to prove something, and finding out that I can actually play with those guys and actually excel and be better than a lot of them. So it was just weird for me. I wasn't used to being in the spotlight, getting attention or receiving scholarships as a freshman athlete."
He realized he had a special talent in middle school
In 7th grade, Cravens attended an all-star camp where the majority of the athletes were juniors in high school.
"I was playing receiver at the time, and I was playing any position I could get in and make an impact, and that went on to the last phase of the camp," he said. "Three times in a row I beat this guy off the line and one-handed the ball on accident."
His performance caught the attention of the coaches in attendance, including the head coach from Hawaii, who told his brother Siaki, who was playing football for Hawaii, that there was be a scholarship opportunity for Su'a once he was in high school. Su'a ended up committing to USC.
Despite his early success, USC made him change positions from safety to linebacker
committingCravens made an immediate impact for the Trojans at safety, winning the job over a senior and being named a Freshman All-American. But after the 2013 season, when Steve Sarkisian came on as head coach, he and his coaching staff wanted to experiment with Cravens at linebacker.
For Cravens, this came as a shock and he had a lot of questions and doubts at first.
"Linebacker? I don't play linebacker. I play safety. I'm an All-American safety. 'Did you not pay attention to what we did last year?'" he recalled thinking. "I was probably one of the best safeties on our team, if not the best. It was kind of a clash of egos between me and my new coach, but they saw what was best for me at the time."
The experiment paid off
"I didn't really understand what was going on and I got moved to the position, and it wasn't even really a linebacker position. It was more like go out in open space and do what you do best. They put me out there from the beginning of my sophomore year until the end of my junior year. It just opened up my game to a lot of different things that I didn't even know I would be able to do."
He believes this experience will be an asset during the NFL Draft process
"Whether it be backpedaling and guarding a receiver in Cover 2 or going up to the line of scrimmage and setting the edge and trying to make a tackle in the backfield, I can do both and I feel I have proven that with my film, and hopefully a lot of these teams see that."
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He has a knack for making interceptions
And for making sacks
He can make every type of big play on defense, but he particularly enjoys knocking down the quarterback.
"Oh it feels good," he said. "When you can get a momentum stopper like that, it's big. Especially for the defense, everyone gets passionate about sacks because they are hard to come by. "
He's been compared to Troy Polamalu
Both guys were stars for the Trojans. And it's not hard to see similarities between their games, their instincts for making big plays, their size and speed. Even the highlight video above refers to Cravens as the next Polamalu.
"The fact that people see a little of him in me, I mean that's humbling, but at the same time that's a legend. You don't get compared to a legend and be a bust," he said. "So it just makes me want to compete even harder and drive myself to be great like that, and hopefully one day be better than him."
He believes he has the well-rounded talent to succeed in the NFL
"I'm not going to be the fastest guy out there. I'm not going to be the strongest. But I know I'm going to be the smartest and I know that I'm a playmaker and a competitor. If you draft me, you are going to get a player that's going to produce. Every team that's going to be at this NFL Combine that's coming up will know that when they interview me."
He enjoyed the Combine training experience
"I'm used to going to class and getting a break from the football life and just being a normal student. But now it's football 24/7 and it's different for me, but I love it. And I love seeing how my body's changing and seeing the progress I'm making week after week—and I've only been here probably a month. I'm years ahead of when I first stepped in here, so it's exciting."
Training for the Combine is basically like a full-time job
His daily schedule at Proactive looks like:
- 8 a.m. - Wake up, take his dog out and eat breakfast
- 9 a.m. - Arrive at Agoura Hills High School for speed and position work
- 11 a.m. - Noon - Arrive at Proactive for rehab and an ice bath
- 1 p.m. - 2 p.m. - Lift for about an hour
- 3 p.m. - Finish the day
The training has made him more explosive
The training has made him stronger and more explosive. But he believes the attention to detail on how he moves on the field has made the biggest difference.
"I was used to running with my legs and my body behind me, but we have great coaches here at Proactive and they are teaching me how to run tall and how to run with my legs underneath me and create force," he said. "I never quite understood that until they gave me an example and showed me."
His favorite exercise is a high-speed sprint
Cravens' favorite exercise is Assisted Sprints. He has a bungee cord attached to his waist with the opposite end attached to another athlete about 35 yards in front. The athlete in front starts jogging and Cravens sprints as fast as he can with the bungee pulling him along. It forces his legs to turn over faster, helping him improve his top speed.
We saw him perform a ridiculously tough sand dune workout
After finishing his strength work, Cravens and the seven other athletes training at Proactive drove half an hour to the Malibu Sand Dunes, where strength coach Josh Tuerpe put them through a grueling workout.
Su'a was consistently one of the first guys up the hill, using his speed and endurance to crush the workout. After finishing the routine, he walked to the top of the dune—this is not easy—to take in the beautiful scenery and reflect on the workout he just completed.
He is striving to be great
"I just want to be great. I don't need a speech, I don't need money, I don't need you to put anything in front of my face, like if you do this you'll get this. I just want to be great," he said. "I'm a competitor and I don't like it when people are better than me. Right now I'm just going to be a rookie going into a league and hoping to make a team. That's how it seems like I've been my entire life, from being a freshman trying to make a varsity team, to a freshman trying to get a starting spot—and I wouldn't want it any other way because I'm going to fight for what I want."
His advises young athletes to tune out the noise around them
"I had people tell me I would never make it to college, and when I made it to college, 'Oh, you will never start for USC,' and I started for USC, 'Oh, you'll be gone or get hurt or nobody makes it into the NFL,'" he said. "So I think if I would've paid attention to the ridicule and paid attention to what everyone else was saying about me, I wouldn't have developed as a player or who I am today. So anyone out there who has a dream or really wants to be great or has a goal, just know who you are as a person and know your work ethic, and just continue to work every day and things will fall into line."
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