BERKELEY -- When juniors Brendan Bigelow and Kameron Jackson left Cal to turn pro after the 2013 football season, the news was greeted by resounding silence from the NFL.
Neither player was among the more than 300 prospects invited to last month's NFL combine.
But Bigelow and Jackson, who will take part in Tuesday's Cal Pro Day workouts at Memorial Stadium, get hope and inspiration from Seattle Seahawks' linebacker Malcolm Smith, MVP of the Super Bowl.
Smith wasn't invited to the combine out of college, either.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish. Let it humble you, and let it give you fire," Smith said in a recent Sports Illustrated interview, when asked what he'd tell other young, overlooked prospects.
"You know, I have the 2011 draft bookmarked on my computer. I'd say once a month, at least, I open it up and scroll through and look at all the names, one through 254. I just want to see all those picked ahead of me and what happened to them."
For Bigelow, a running back, and Jackson, a cornerback, it's as if Smith were sitting right in front of them.
"I feel like he's speaking to a lot of us in the same situation," Bigelow said.
"He just motivated me even more," Jackson said. "It just tells me to believe in yourself, for sure."
Bigelow wasn't surprised when no combine invitation came his way after what was pretty much a lost season. Hampered by the effects of knee surgery last spring, he rushed for just 421 yards and was briefly moved to slot receiver for the 1-11 Bears.
"I wasn't expecting anything," he said of not being asked to the league's pre-draft camp. "I know better than that."
Bigelow relocated to Houston to do draft preparation work at Plex, a training facility whose clients have included Andrew Luck, Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers. He spent 2ï»¿1/2 months improving his strength and explosiveness. He slept holding a football to reduce fumbling.
He said his knee feels 100 percent.
Bigelow knows he must make a good first impression with scouts at Pro Day.
"It's like that first date you're about to go on with a girl," he said. "You're going to bring out your best tools to impress her. It's like that important."
Jackson, with just one interception for the Bears last season, was convinced it was time to jump to the NFL. Unlike Bigelow, Jackson was surprised the combine didn't call.
His response was the same, though. He trekked to Texas, where he spent two months training in Dallas with former Olympic track and field star Michael Johnson.
"You watch him before his race and he's focused," Jackson said. "Focusing causes you to know your assignment. That will make everything so easy, to be in the moment."
When he runs the 40-yard dash for pro scouts, Jackson expects to display the benefits of training with one of the world's fastest men ever.
"I'm going to surprise people," he said.
Bigelow and Jackson both will need to surprise the right people to get their shot at the NFL. Both know they are promised nothing, but neither will be easily discouraged.
"If I don't get drafted, I'm not going to be mad," Bigelow said. "There's more work to be done."
Malcolm Smith can relate.