The big names will be present, sure.
Christian Hackenberg … Austin Johnson … Carl Nassib … Anthony Zettel …
But the more eclectic in the group of athletes hoping to impress NFL scouts and coaches at Penn State’s Pro Day workouts on Thursday morning are just as hungry to stand out among those stars.
For example, one among the ranks will be the only with a touch of cauliflower ear.
Jon Gingrich, a former standout wrestler for Penn State, climbed the ranks from a walk-on out of Bald Eagle Area High School to a heavyweight ranked No. 12 in the nation by his 2013-14 season by Intermat.
Gingrich still assists with the wrestling program, and head coach Cael Sanderson reached out to Penn State strength coach Dwight Galt and head coach James Franklin on the athlete’s behalf to help him get a slot among the Pro Day participants.
“It’s been in my mind throughout college,” said Gingrich earlier this week. “There were even times in college when I thought about, I guess, leaving the wrestling team and trying out for football ... But I didn’t want to walk out on wrestling since I had already started it and didn’t want to break that commitment.”
My main thing is that I want to look athletic and turn heads. I want scouts to see my work ethic, my ability to learn and be coachable…Somebody who can be a potential athlete, who they can mold into something...I feel like I have the abilities. I just need somebody to take a chance on me.
Former Penn State wrestler and Pro Day participant Jon Gingrich
Gingrich, who played “just about everywhere on the field” in high school, said he’s been training for a shot at the NFL since September. The 6-foot-2, 265-pound prospect works out at Power Train in State College five days per week, gets about an hour lunch break and then heads to wrestling workouts. He has also been training with other Pro Day participants in Holuba Hall for the past two weeks or so.
After Gingrich graduated last May, he turned down a job with Hendrick Motorsports as a pit crew member after deciding he was going all in for football.
“I’ve always wanted to,” he said. “The only thing stopping me was me believing in myself. So I kind of just said, ‘Well, I’m gonna do it.’ ”
Gingrich laughed when asked about his position hopes — as a former wrestler, he’s no stranger to 10-20 pound weight gain it’d take for him to be competitive as a defensive tackle or defensive end, and definitely familiar with the 10-20-pound weight cut it’d take for him to play linebacker. He’s plenty mobile — he clocked his last 40-yard dash prior to increasing cardiovascular and speed training at 4.9 seconds (which he says is slow for him). He also ran a 4.38-second pro shuttle (a hundredth of a second slower than Nassib).
“The position thing, that’s been difficult for me,” he said. “My height and weight is like, in between everything. So I’m big for a linebacker, small for a lineman or defensive end. So I don’t really know … I’m going in and doing defensive end drills.”
Mostly, Gingrich wants to prove that he’s an all-around athlete and can be molded to whatever a team wants from him — even if it’s a conversion into a tight end, he laughed, reminiscing on the days when he and wrestling teammates would run routes for each other to get loose before practices and matches.
“My main thing is that I want to look athletic and turn heads,” he said. “I want scouts to see my work ethic, my ability to learn and be coachable … Somebody who can be a potential athlete, who they can mold into something … I feel like I have the abilities. I just need somebody to take a chance on me.”
Gingrich has stayed composed despite the enormity of the opportunity — after all, he’s wrestled world champions in front of huge crowds on grandiose stages — but his friends are allowing themselves to get excited, he said.
“We have a fantasy (football) league and they’re already joking ‘Oh I’m gonna draft you,’ ” he laughed. “I’m like ‘Whoa! I get to draft myself!’ ”
On the other side of the ball, a new face will be catching passes from Hackenberg — one that might attract some attention from NFL personnel in attendance.
Jon Schnaars, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver went from minimal recruiting attention while at Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg. to East Stroudsburg’s No. 1 wideout by his senior year of college.
Schnaars, a former walk-on, caught 114 passes for 1,610 yards (an average of 146.4 yards per game) and 22 touchdowns during his final year at ESU, which helped earn him an invite to the regional combine in Baltimore and, a bit surprising to him, an invite to Penn State’s Pro Day workouts.
All I need is a chance, the right time, the right place and for a team to give me a shot. And then once we’re on the field, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, where you went to school. When the helmet’s on, you’re just against the guy in front of you.
East Stroudsberg receiver Jon Schnaars, on his invitation to Penn State’s Pro Day
Hackenberg’s agent, Rich Rosa, helped set up the receiver’s big opportunity, according to Schnaars.
“(My agent) texted me and asked me if I was busy that day,” he laughed. “I was just thinking, ‘Hopefully this isn’t bad news’ (many teams extend regional invitations only as far as participation in the 40-yard dash and agility drills, Schnaars had hoped for a chance to show off his skills as a wideout).
“But then he said, ‘We have this great opportunity … You’re going to be running routes and catching passes.’ ”
And from none other than three-year Penn State starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who is sure to attract a lot of attention from NFL personnel because of the scrutiny he is under as a prospect.
By association, all eyes will be on Schnaars, too. He worked out with Hackenberg for the first time about a week ago and said he was impressed with the quarterback’s direction, mind for the game and openness to dialogue regarding route tweaks and technique.
“We got along, I mean, we’re both trying to help each other out, we’re in this together,” he said. “The kid’s got a cannon, he’s accurate, he’s a big guy.
“I told him when he walked in, ‘I didn’t know you were that big!’ The kid is just like a truck.’ ”
Schnaars said that the pressure of a quarterback like Hackenberg throwing to him in front of scouts and coaches is something he relishes — and that mentality stems from his journey from a skinny, scrappy walk-on to setting catch records at East Stroudsburg.
“I definitely played with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “And certainly trying to get notice from all the scouts, coming from a small school … I always used to say I’m trying to (succeed) because everyone is doubting me. But now, I’m doing it for myself and my loved ones. They know what I can do, I know what I can do, and I’m just trying to make the most out of what I got.
“All I need is a chance, the right time, the right place and for a team to give me a shot. And then once we’re on the field, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, where you went to school. When the helmet’s on, you’re just against the guy in front of you.”
PSU Pro Day
Penn State Pro Day workouts start at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday. Prior, players will take the NFL-regulated Wonderlic Test.