The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 18, 2014

Former Penn State guard now intent on NFL career

JOHNSTOWN — 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.”

 

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