IOWA CITY, Ia. — A year ago, Greg Mabin seemed positioned to show Iowa Hawkeye football fans and NFL personnel that he was more than just the team’s “other cornerback.”
He finally had surgery to repair his labrum, a problem that dated to his junior year of high school in Florida. He was getting some early buzz as a potential 2017 NFL Draft pick, ranking in the top 20 of eligible cornerbacks by CBSSports.com.
Mabin’s senior year at Iowa didn’t go as planned. He struggled to make game-changing plays, even though he was targeted frequently while lining up on the opposite side of the field from all-American Desmond King. He made 37 tackles, broke up three passes and forced one fumble, but he failed to record an interception.
Then his Hawkeye career ended when Mabin stepped on a teammate’s leg during the last padded practice before the team scored its big upset win over Michigan. The teammate ended up with a bruised calf. Mabin broke the talus bone in his ankle. That meant the last of his 35 starts at Iowa came in the 41-14 shellacking at Penn State.
“It was like everybody played their worst game in one game. I definitely went out on a low note,” said Mabin, who stayed close to the team and helped mentor youngsters such as Manny Rugamba and Josh Jackson.
“I just didn’t want to be a vibe-killer for the whole team,” Mabin said.
Inside, though, Mabin struggled at times, wondering if he’d have to give up on his sport and fall back on his degree in health and human physiology. When those dark thoughts gathered, Mabin would turn to the women in his life for encouragement — his mother, sisters and girlfriend.
He remained home in Florida after Iowa’s loss in the Outback Bowl and made rehabilitating his injury and training for the draft a full-time job, heading out at 7 a.m. and not returning until 5 or 6 p.m. The NFL dream was rekindled.
Mabin is returning to Iowa City on Monday for the team’s annual Pro Day. He isn’t ready to go through the drills quite yet — estimating the health of his ankle at 80-85 percent — but wants to cheer on his former teammates and meet with the NFL scouts who are present.
Mabin will come back to campus in two or three weeks for a private workout for invited scouts, one that he will also tape for distribution to all teams. He is firmly focused on his sport again, and convinced that he can help whichever club takes a chance on him. He has visits lined up with the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints.
“I’ll show them a player who’s committed, first off. I’m never one to take a rep off or a play off. I’m always giving 100 percent of my best,” Mabin vowed. “A smart football player who they’re not going to have to worry about off the field.”
After his season ended, Mabin went through the process of hiring an agent. He found it enjoyable — “It felt like I was being recruited all over again,” he joked — and settled on The Institute for Athletes in Minneapolis.
Mabin said he has heard from many NFL teams that are still interested in him, but want to see how he performs post-injury. He believes the 35 games worth of film will give teams enough to evaluate. His strengths, he said, are his speed and footwork. He also has good size at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds.
Mabin has been working in Florida with Sam Madison, a four-time NFL Pro Bowler at cornerback who is now an instructor. At age 42, Madison always jokes that he could still play one series of downs in the NFL if called on. Mabin believes him.
“I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the position before I came down here, but Sam just opened up a whole new world to me,” said Mabin, who began his Hawkeye career as a wide receiver.
“It all starts at the line, just being able to coordinate your hands and your feet while you’re pressing (the receiver). Nine times out of 10, that’s going to determine who wins the battle.”
Mabin knows that getting selected in the seven-round NFL Draft may be a long shot for him now. This year’s class is considered historically deep at cornerback. Going the free-agent route is fine for him, as is playing on special teams, something he didn’t do much at Iowa.
“Either way, I’m going to get my shot,” he said. “I’m a more focused person now, just seeing how easy the game can be taken away from you.”