John Urschel is all about football now.
During an outstanding career at Penn State, Urschel was one of the most accomplished multitaskers in college sports.
On the field he was team captain and one of the top guards in the country. He earned all-Big Ten honors twice, was a third-team All-America selection by The Associated Press as a senior and received an invitation to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where he’ll trying to impress pro scouts this week.
Academically, he was an even bigger star.
He earned a degree in math in three years, knocked out a Master’s degree in one and is on his way to another in math education – with a 4.0 grade-point average. This past fall, he taught a class at Penn State. All that earned him the William V. Campbell Trophy, given to college football’s most outstanding scholar-athlete.
At this point in his life, though, math is on hold.
“I am very, very serious about professional football,” Urschel said in a recent interview. “This is not just a goal, it’s the only goal. When I get up in the morning it is the only thing on my mind.
“The idea that my days of playing football could be over is a terrifying one and this is something I’m going to make sure doesn’t happen.”
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Urschel is one of 15 guards invited to the combine. There is no guarantee he will be drafted. He is generally regarded as a late-round pick, though the combine could change that. His NFL.com scouting report praises him for technique, awareness, competitiveness and – not surprisingly – intelligence. Playing for new Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien is a plus, too. The report says he needs to work on his power and explosiveness.
To do that, he has been working out Athletes Performance Institute in Carlsbad, Calif., since January. He is scheduled to get to Indianapolis today and he’ll put his physical skills on display Saturday.
Urschel will be chronicling his experience preparing for the draft for the AP in a series of diary entries, starting Wednesday, over the next two and a half months
He grew up in Williamsville, N.Y., just outside of Buffalo. He got a relatively late start in football, playing organized ball for the first time when he was in the ninth grade.
“As soon as a started playing I loved the physicality of it,” he said.
At Penn State, he started 23 games over his final two seasons, and was one of the leaders of a team that won 15 games, despite being handcuffed by severe sanctions the NCAA hit the program with for the school’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case.
Like all the players who were on Penn State’s roster when the sanctions came down, Urschel could have transferred without restrictions. The opportunity he got, however, was unique.
Heading into his senior season, Urschel applied to graduate programs at Penn State, Northwestern and Stanford.
Stanford encouraged him to apply for the Ph.D. program.
“They were very, very interested in me and I actually received a scholarship that would have been worth $96,000 per year to be a student in applied math,” he said.
The deal also included a $30,000 stipend.
“For a broke college student like myself that’s something serious,” he said.
And he would have been able to play for a Stanford team that was a Pac-12 and national title contender last season instead of one ineligible for the postseason.
“I’d be lying to you if I told you it only took a second to think about it,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to get such an opportunity.”
But he couldn’t leave Penn State and his friends.
“At the end of the day I love my university and love my team,” Urschel said, “and I love my teammates more than anything.”
John Urschel is all about football now.
Penguins shut out Capitals
Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves for his fifth shutout of the season, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-0 victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.
Jussi Jokinen and Sidney Crosby scored for the Penguins, who swept the teams’ home-and-series one night after beating the Capitals 3-2 in Washington.
Steelers’ Woodley victim of salary cap
The Pittsburgh Steelers released linebacker LaMarr Woodley on Tuesday, with a post-June 1 designation to save money under the salary cap and signed free agent safety Mike Mitchell from the Carolina Panthers.
Mitchell first announced on Twitter that he has signed with the Steelers and his agent Brian Hamilton confirmed the signing to The Associated Press.
Hawkins signed to offer sheet
On the first day of free agency, Cleveland signed Cincinnati wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet. The Bengals have five days to match the contract or Hawkins will join the Browns, who need a replacement at slot receiver after releasing troubled veteran Davone Bess.
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Bengals make low offer to Hawkins
Johnstown’s Andrew Hawkins grew up with the Cincinnati Bengals while following his older brother Artrell Hawkins Jr.’s NFL career.
The younger Hawkins could see himself wearing a Bengals uniform and playing wide receiver in Cincinnati for years to come. But the Bishop McCort High School graduate knows the business side of the NFL sometimes gets in the way of the storybook ending.
Liriano sharp in Pirates victory over Rays
Russell Martin homered for the third time this spring and drove in four runs to lead Francisco Liriano and the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 10-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.
Martin had an RBI single during a six-run first inning against Rays starter Matt Moore and added a three-run homer off Grant Balfour in the fourth.
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