INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State offensive lineman and Williamsville native John Urschel will routinely provide a look at his journey leading to the NFL Draft on May 8 in a series of diary entries for the Associated Press. The third-team All-American has a Master’s degree in math and was awarded the William V. Campbell Trophy as college football’s top scholar-athlete. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound guard’s second entry looks at his four days at the scouting combine.
For most fans, the NFL combine is associated with field testing (i.e. the 40-yard dash). But it is much, much more. It is four days which will test you in a variety of ways. It tests your patience, desire and resiliency. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
My roommate on the trip was Florida offensive lineman Jon Halapio. At 6-foot-3 and 323 pounds, Jon is a towering figure. And he looks equally intimidating. But this first impression could not be farther from the truth. Jon was a great guy who I was glad to meet, and we became friends immediately. In general, offensive linemen are easy going.
We get blood work, EKGs, a urine test and MRI exams. Later in the day I meet some of the other offensive linemen in my group. Stanford’s David Yankey and I get along extremely well. I am quite fond of Palo Alto, Calif., so I have plenty of questions for him about his experiences.
We begin informal interviews with position coaches that night, and I meet with a number of them. I have memorized all 32 offensive line coaches, as well as their background. They ask me a number of things, from my background growing up to my time at Penn State. They test my football IQ some, and I pass with flying colors. One team has me list all the things you could do with a paperclip.
My roommate, Jon, snores like an 18-wheeler, and I only manage three hours’ sleep before getting up at 4:30 a.m. He warned me about this, but I didn’t want to wake him. The schedule for the day includes a drug test, weigh-in, and medical exams. I weigh in at 313, right around what I played and have been training at.
Medical exams take a while, but by this point, I learn to be patient. I feel as if I am in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I see former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, catch up with him and congratulate him. This is not just lip service; he is one of my biggest role models and deserves everything he has achieved and more.
I wake up at 5 a.m. and get ready for mental testing. At this point I am already mentally exhausted.
I take the Wonderlic test. They have revised the test, and it is different from what I prepared for. I answer all 50 questions, with time to spare. I guess I scored high 40s, possibly even 50. My former teammate, Texas kicker Anthony Fera, was next to me and could not believe I finished it. Back at Athletes’ Performance in California, where I prepared for the combine, I helped a number of the other players prep for this test, and next year, I may plan to help prospects prepare as well.
The physical testing starts with the bench press. The coaches and scouts are silent, but we cheer for each other and create an electric environment for the group. I feel quite nervous beforehand, but manage 30 reps of 225 pounds. I am one of the top-10 performers among offensive linemen.
I wake up excited to perform. When my time comes to run the 40, my nerves are at an all-time high. I very quickly forget my technique, and put out a less-than-stunning performance. My time was average (5.31 seconds according to NFL.com) among offensive linemen, but about two-tenths slower than what I am capable of. For the remainder of the day, I perform extremely well, placing in the top 10 among offensive linemen in the 20-yard shuttle, three-cone drill, and vertical jump. I am pleased with my broad jump as well. Overall, I had a great day, but may rerun my 40 at pro day at Penn State on April 8.
After, we are all happy to be done. Fellow Big Ten offensive lineman Taylor Lewan and I pose for a picture together (check either of our Twitter accounts for details, @mathmeetsfootball and @TaylorLewan77).
My time at the combine was hectic to say the least, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime event that I will never forget. Now it’s back home to State College, Pa., for the first time in two months.