The list of Turkish natives to have played in the NFL has only a single name on it.
The University at Buffalo’s Gokhan “Gio” Ozkan hopes to soon make it two.
Ozkan, who started every game over the last two seasons at right tackle, is one of three Bulls who will take part in UB’s Pro Day, which will be held at 11 a.m. today inside the Buffalo Bills’ Fieldhouse. He’ll be joined by Buffalo native Steven Means, who played defensive end for the Bulls, and linebacker Willie Moseley as the trio tries to make the leap from the Mid-American Conference to the NFL.
“I just want to show the scouts that come that I am capable,” Ozkan said Monday. “That’s all I need is that one opportunity, one team, then everything else will take care of itself.”
Over the weekend, Ozkan was one of about 300 participants in an NFL Regional Combine that was conducted at the New York Jets’ training facility in New Jersey. Similar to the NFL Scouting Combine held last month in Indianapolis, the regional combines allow participants to be tested by experienced NFL scouting personnel. Players are measured and put through the usual combine drills like the 40-yard dash, and video of their positional drills are compiled and entered into a database accessible to all 32 NFL teams.
Last year, eight such regional combines were held, and that number was expanded this season to 10. While the odds are long, last season 87 players who participated in regional combines went to training camps with NFL teams, and 28 of them earned spots on rosters at the start of the season (14 on active 53-man rosters and 14 on practice squads).
“Realistically, free agency is what I’m hoping for,” Ozkan said. “From there on, just getting invited to camp and then showcasing my ability. Everything else will take care of itself.”
At 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, Ozkan has the size NFL scouts look for in right tackles, the position at which he started all 24 games over the last two seasons for UB. He ran the short shuttle drill — which tests an athlete’s lateral quickness and explosion in short areas — in 4.58 seconds. He’s hoping to run the 40 today in 5.1 seconds or less, and do about 25 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press.
To get ready, Ozkan’s been working out at Absolute Performance in Williamsville under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Paul Childress.
“Today’s something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time now,” Ozkan said. “I think my hard work throughout the years will show.”
That work ethic is something that’s been instilled in Ozkan since he came to the United States as a 6-year-old boy with his parents and older brother. The family first made its home in Brooklyn, where Ozkan attended Bishop Ford High School. Ozkan’s father still works as a New York City taxi driver.
“They just bust their hump working all the time,” Ozkan said of his parents. “All the opportunities I’ve had are because of them. I’m incredibly proud to have the family that I do.”
Ozkan, now 23, was a basketball player in middle school, but was persuaded to try out for the football team in 10th grade after the coaches saw his combination of size and agility. Ozkan was a team captain and played both offensive and defensive lines for coach Jim Esposito to earn a scholarship to UB.
After redshirting as a freshman in 2008, Ozkan played mostly special teams the next two years before taking over as a starter in 2011. That season, he helped pave the way for Branden Oliver’s UB-record 1,395 yards rushing and 13 rushing touchdowns as the Bulls averaged 155 rushing yards per game. In 2012, UB gained 2,120 yards on the ground, an average of 4.36 yards per rush.
Ozkan was selected by the website College Football News as UB’s top pro prospect.
“I think with what UB has shown the past couple years with the run game and how much that’s developed under coach [Jeff] Quinn and his leadership, I think that’ll appeal to NFL teams,” Ozkan said. “That’s something I love to do. The run game’s always been fun to me.”
Ozkan, who graduated in December with a degree in finance, hopes to follow in the footsteps of former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin, who twice made the Pro Bowl and is currently a radio and TV analyst for his former team.
“It would be an honor to join him,” Ozkan said. “I’m really proud to be representing my home country.”