Derrick Puni comes from a school you’ve probably never heard of, but he hopes that doesn’t make him go unnoticed as a 6-foot-6, 320-pound offensive lineman prospect for the upcoming NFL Draft.
Puni was a three-year starter for Central Missouri, a Division-II program in Warrensburg, Missouri. When Puni wasn’t sidelined with injuries that riddled his career, he garnered three All-America honors, including two this past season with AFCA and D2football.com.
Puni talked about his time at Central Missouri, where he battled injuries and contemplated transferring to a larger school, and what life has been like for him while preparing for the NFL Draft in Tampa, Florida.
Question: What’s life been like since the end of football season, preparing for what’s ahead?
Puni: “It’s been real busy. It’s been a grind, for sure. I’m training down here in Tampa. I got down here, I think, Jan. 1. I’ve been training all the way up until now, just pretty much all day, doing field work, weight room stuff.”
Q: How’d you end up in Tampa to workout?
Puni: “My agent, he usually sends his guys down here. He knows a guy down here.”
Q: What makes you think you’ve gone under the radar?
Puni: “You’re just not on all the big-time media platforms, I’d say. I came up here, and nobody’s ever heard of my school. I’m just under the radar from media exposure, stuff like that.”
Q: How tough is that, that you could be just as talented as the guys getting exposure and working just as hard, but they’re getting more recognition because of where they come from?
Puni: “It’s definitely hard, just watching some of the guys that are in the spot that you want to be in. But it’s cool; I know I’ll get a shot to prove myself once it happens. I just have to be patient, I guess.”
Q: As a three-year starter, when you started finding your groove and seeing how big you are, did you ever think about transferring to a bigger school for more exposure?
Puni: “It actually kind of crossed my mind. My junior year during spring ball, I tore my labrum in my right shoulder. I knew at that time that I was going to be redshirting for that whole next year. And (transferring) was something that crossed my mind, and we kind of talked about it. I just ultimately never went through with it.”
Q: How tough was that injury on you, considering that’s about the time you started finding your groove and starting?
Puni: “Knowing I was gonna miss that next season, it would have been my senior year with all the guys I came in with, so it was tough being on the sidelines watching them, and not being able to do anything and be out there with them.”
Q: Anything you learned from that time as a bright side?
Puni: “Just how much I missed being out there. You’re just sitting on the sidelines. You can’t do anything. You just miss being out there with them. Your love for the game just grows more knowing how it is that you can’t play and knowing what that feels like. You only get a certain amount of chances.”
Q: If I’m an NFL GM, why should I give you a chance?
Puni: “I’d say I’m a versatile player. I’m a tough player. I can bring a lot to the table. I got a lot of experience. I’m just a hardworking guy, a lot of leadership qualities, good for the locker room; just an all-around good player.”