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NFL Combine

Calvin Austin III: Memphis Track Walk-on to NFL Combine Star



Calvin Austin III

INDIANAPOLIS — From some humble beginnings, Calvin Austin III’s time representing the University of Memphis ended with a splash on Thursday.

Austin ran an unofficial 4.32-second 40-yard dash on Thursday night at the 2022 NFL Combine, and also had a 39-inch vertical jump to put his name as a contender as one of the top wide receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft.

So it’s fitting that his story starts at the track. An undersized wide receiver at 5-foot-9 coming out Harding Academy in Memphis, Austin had no scholarship offers.

In the spring of his senior year, after football was over, Austin stared to get recruited by Miles Smith, the Memphis track coach. That May 19, he ran personal-best 10.55-seconds in the 100 meters to win the TSDAA DII West Sectional.

“He was like, I’m not going to let you get out of Memphis,” Austin said.

Smith wanted Austin to walk on to the Memphis track team. That was an enticing offer, but not a good-enough one for Austin to give up his football aspirations.

“Memphis was always my dream school, but the only way I was going to come to Memphis was if I could play football and track,” Austin said.

The next day, that was rectified, as Smith convinced head coach Mike Norvell to give Austin a preferred walk-on spot. He walked on to the football team that summer and the track team that spring.

His freshman year, Austin was part fo the 4 x 100 meter relay team that qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, and set three school records.

In the fall of 2018, he logged 101 all-purpose yards in his collegiate football debut, scoring an 83-yard touchdown on his second touch. In 2019, he earned a football scholarship. In 2020, after COVID-19 cancelled the track season, he focused on football, and led the AAC in receiving yards and touchdowns with 1,053 and 11.

After his 2021 season, Austin impressed enough to ge to the Senior Bowl. He turned heads in Mobile and got an invite to the NFL Combine. Every step of the way, Austin has exceeded expectations.

“I think that kind of defines me as a football player. Walking on was probably the greatest thing I could do. I think God gave me that challenge just to make me work harder, go through the grind and really just trust the process. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

So it shouldn’t have been surprising when he bested the competition with his 4.32-second 40 on Thursday.

“I was blessed with God-given speed and quickness, but to be at this point where I am right now, it just took hard work,” Austin said. “That’s what I tell people coming up. There are other athletes in Memphis that if you want something, you truly have to work for it. I wouldn’t be sitting there right now if I didn’t.”

Now Austin will be getting out of Memphis, but as an NFL draft pick and one of the top wide receivers in his class.

Click for more coverage from Alan Saunders, Nick Farabaugh and Dan Angell, live from Indianapolis at the 2022 NFL Combine.