Phil McConkey has never met John Urschel, but that didn’t stop the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famer from gushing over the big man with the sparkling intellect and immense football talent with such enthusiasm that one would think they were part of the same family.
In a way, they are family members, even though they’re not blood relatives. Both are Canisius High School graduates.
Urschel, a 6-foot-3, 313-pound guard who earned All-Big Ten honors his past two seasons at Penn State, has a strong chance of joining McConkey as the only Canisius products to play in a regular-season NFL game, post merger.
Urschel, who has captured scouts’ attention because of his intelligence and athleticism, projects as a potential day three selection (Rounds 4-7). He is ranked No. 15 among draft-eligible guards by cbssports.com.
Fullback Vince Amoia is the only Canisius graduate to be drafted by an NFL team post merger, according to Canisius publicist Bryce Hopkins. Amoia was picked by the New York Jets in the 11th round in 1986 after walking on at Arizona State.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed about,” Urschel said this week during a phone interview. “It’s something I put a lot of hours, a lot of blood, sweat and tears in and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity.”
He’s not the only one.
McConkey played 67 games from 1984 to 1989. He suited up mostly for the New York Giants, winning a Super Bowl with Big Blue in 1986.
No other Crusader has appeared in a regular-season game since McConkey’s last on Dec. 24, 1989. It’s something McConkey and Urschel hope changes in the immediate future.
“I hope he gets drafted and goes to where he wants to go ... and wins a couple Super Bowls,” said McConkey, who made it to the NFL as an undrafted free agent at age 27 following his four-year service commitment at Navy. “Regardless of what happens on the football field, he’s got an incredibly great future.
“Forget about the football for a second. This is an extremely impressive young man. ... I’m just so proud to be a fellow alumnus of his because the football is great and I hope he gets drafted and makes a lot of money in football and has a successful, healthy career, hopefully it’s with the Bills or Giants, that would be my preference because of my bias, but beyond football he’s going to be an incredible success.
“He’s going to have great successes in life and I think this is the exact type of athlete you want your kids, my kids, all kids to emulate. The academic side and the leadership side of this individual is phenomenal.”
Urschel has the potential to be one of the most decorated day three picks ever.
Urschel, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math with a 4.0 grade-point average and even taught a class while taking classes and playing major Division I football, won the William V. Campbell Trophy (the academic Heisman) for being the best college football player to combine academics, community service and on-field performance. Last month, he joined a list that includes Olympic champions Michael Phelps and Carl Lewis in winning the James E. Sullivan Award as the United States’ top amateur athlete.
On the field, he earned third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. He helped the Nittany Lions post winning records in each of his four seasons, paved the way for three 1,000-yard rushers, and was among the players who opted to stay in Happy Valley to help the program recover from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
“If John gets drafted, it’s just another testament to him, and the school takes a lot of pride in that,” Canisius High School Athletic Director Jim Mauro said.
His alma mater provided a little push to get him on the NFL path.
Back when Urschel was choosing between a who’s who of Ivy League schools, Mauro had a sit-down with Urschel and asked him what did he want to do for college. Urschel said he’d really like to try to play in the NFL. At that point Mauro pointed out that Penn State, which has a high-quality academic reputation of its own, might help him get closer to achieving that goal.
Urschel recalled the conversation when asked about it this week. How could he possibly forget it? It helped get the ball rolling toward Radio City Music Hall and the draft, with Urschel doing the rest of the work.
“At the end of the day. I want to make it in the NFL,” Urschel said. “I’m just glad to be able to represent all that’s right about Canisius because, believe me, we’ve got some great alumni that really don’t get in the news and don’t get their due.”