Wally Triplett, one of the first African-American men to be drafted and play for an NFL team as well as the first African-American starter at Penn State, died Thursday at age 92.
Triplett was taken in the 19th round of the 1949 draft by the Detroit Lions as a running back and returner — one of three African-American players to be taken in that year’s NFL draft. Of those three, he was the first to appear in a game.
In a 2015 story on MLive.com, Triplett described what it’s like watching the NFL draft now after becoming one of the first African-American players to be drafted almost 70 years ago.
“When I look at this thing they call the [NFL] draft now, I laugh at it with tears because to be drafted now means you’re automatically in a group with people that are going to get paid for doing nothing,” Triplett told MLive in 2015. “You’re going to get paid before [you] play, and so you get some degree of assurance right away as opposed to, when we were drafted, you were just put on a list.
“If you make it, you make it. If you don’t, you don’t.”
The 5-foot-11, 173-pound Triplett spent two years with the Lions and two years with the Chicago Cardinals, appearing in 24 games with 70 rushes for 321 yards and one touchdown along with catching 17 passes for 175 yards. He started nine games in his career, all for the Lions.
He also had 34 career punt returns for 401 yards and a touchdown and 18 kick returns for 664 yards and a touchdown.
On Oct. 29, 1950, Triplett set a then-NFL record with 294 yards on four kick returns, including a 97-yard touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. The record stood for 44 years before being broken in 1994 and remains the third-highest mark in league history.
He averaged 73.5 yards per return that day — still an NFL record.
“Wally is one of the true trailblazers in American sports history,” the Lions said in a statement released Thursday announcing his death. “He resides among the great men who helped reshape the game as they faced the challenges of segregation and discrimination. His contributions date back to his days at Penn State as the Nittany Lions’ first African-American starter and varsity letter-winner, highlighted by his appearance in the first integrated Cotton Bowl.”
While at Penn State, he was part of the team that helped bring the “WE ARE,” chant to the university as part of how they overcame racial discrimination. He was one of two African-American players to play for Penn State in the Cotton Bowl against SMU in 1948.
In a 2009 story in the Centre Daily Times, Triplett recalled SMU wanting to meet with Penn State about not playing Triplett and Dennie Hoggard. One of their teammates, guard Steve Suhey, said they wouldn’t even take the meeting.
“We are Penn State,” Triplett remembered Suhey saying, according to the Centre Daily Times. “There will be no meetings.”
Triplett was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame earlier this year. In his time at Penn State he had a career punt-return average of 16.5 yards and has the fourth-longest punt return in school history, at 85 yards.
His two years with the Lions and two years with the Cardinals bracketed two years of service in the Korean War with the 594th Field Artillery Battalion.
Triplett was born in La Mott, Pennsylvania on April 18, 1926 and played football, basketball and baseball at Cheltenham High School. He is survived by three children, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa has withdrawn from school to focus on his rehabilitation of an injured core muscle, the Buckeyes announced Tuesday. The All-American will now presumably turn his attention to the 2019 NFL draft.
“I was hopeful that Nick would be able to return to play again for us,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. “I know this was an extremely difficult and emotional decision for Nick and his family, and I wish him well as he moves on to get himself 100 percent healthy and ready for his next chapter. I want to thank Nick for the remarkable efforts he gave for this program. He is a first-class young man who we have been honored to coach.”
Bosa, a junior, injured a core muscle in the third quarter of a 40-28 win over TCU on Sept. 15, had surgery to repair the injury on Sept. 20 and has since been recovering. The reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year had not been cleared for team activities and was ruled out for the upcoming game against Purdue.
Through just three games of the season, Bosa had four sacks and six tackles for loss and was leading the team in tackles at the time of the injury.
Nick is the younger brother of Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who also starred at Ohio State and was selected third overall in the 2016 NFL draft. Nick Bosa is the No. 1 prospect on Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest Big Board rankings of the top players for the 2019 draft.
The injury is not expected to impact Bosa’s draft status.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are countless stories about the struggles of players on their journey to the NFL, but few, if any, are like the one of defensive end Efe Obada, who went from homeless in a foreign land to the 53-man roster of the Carolina Panthers.
But it is that path that helped the 26-year-old become the first player from the NFL’s International Pathway program to make a final roster. He describes a journey from his native Nigeria to the Netherlands to the United Kingdom — via human traffickers. Then, in England, Obada and his sister were abandoned and left homeless.
“It instilled a hunger in me that I have to this day and I feel I can apply in the game,” Obada said Tuesday. “It’s kind of going through a state of survival.
“So what I do today I don’t take anything for granted. I don’t take this opportunity for granted because it doesn’t come so easily.”
Obada couldn’t stop smiling on Sunday when telling reporters how he got the news he’d made the team. On Tuesday, he was focused on making the most of his opportunity to the point he didn’t want to discuss in detail his unusual path here.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Obada said. “What happened to me is something that has happened across the world, it’s happened to a lot of people. I’m just blessed to have the opportunity I’m in right now. I just want to focus on football.
“Eventually down the line when everything is settled and I’ve established myself in the league, then I’ll go into that. I’ll go into my background. I’ll go into my history.”
Obada acknowledges his story of suffering and perseverance is intriguing to those on the outside. He can’t believe he has a locker next to future Hall of Fame defensive end Julius Peppers, fourth on the NFL’s all-time sack list with 154.5 sacks.
Obada also admits he still has trust issues, that there are things from his past he hasn’t fully processed.
“I’m in a position where I want to contribute to this team,” Obada said. “I don’t want it to be focused on my story. Some of these issues I haven’t dealt with, I haven’t taken time to understand. I don’t just want to be a story.
“I know media is a part of the process, a part of the industry I’m in right now, but this means the world to me. I don’t want anything, anyone, to take that from me.”
That the Panthers open on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, the team that first discovered Obada, adds to the intrigue of his story.
Dallas signed the 6-foot-6, 266-pound player who had never played high school or college football to its practice squad in 2015. He spent time with Kansas City and Atlanta in 2016 before being assigned to the Panthers as part of the international program last year.
He spent the entire 2017 season on the practice squad because the Panthers had a roster exemption.
But Obada made this year’s 53-man roster on merit. Among the players he beat out was 2017 third-round pick Daeshon Hall, a defensive end out of Texas A&M for whom Carolina initially had high hopes.
One of the things that caught the eye of coach Ron Rivera when final cuts were made on Saturday was how far Obada had come from the start of offseason workouts. The other was the intensity Obada brings to practice every day.
“I see it every time he steps on the field,” Rivera said. “He practices 100 miles per hour. I’ve got guys that get upset with him because on Friday he’s going hard.
“It’s funny, when you want to point to something, when you say, ‘Hey guys, if you came from where he came, if you dealt with what he dealt with, that’s how you want to approach everything in life,’ that’s what I think is impressive.”
Obada said his past hardships are what drives him now, up to the point he was prepared for the worst on Saturday.
“Walking in and getting released is what I’m used to,” Obada said. “I was walking in and making eye contact with everyone. No one spoke to me. I didn’t say anything to nobody. I made it to my locker and they still hadn’t stopped me or said anything.
“Coach Rivera eventually came over to me, and I was like, ‘Is it real?'”
Defensive end Mario Addison often talks about the hardships and poverty he grew up with in Birmingham, Alabama. But he admits Obada’s story takes it to another level.
“For him not to give up speaks volumes,” Addison said. “My hat is off to Efe. I know he’s going to continue to do tremendous things on and off the field because of the kind of guy he was.
“Unfortunately, he went through bad things, which we all do. What you do afterwards is what you’re about.”
Obada said his mother made the decision for him to move from Nigeria when he was 10.
“Then she wanted me to have a better life,” he said. “[The trafficking] was more so in the UK. It just didn’t play out the way everything was planned and that’s how I ended up in foster care.”
When asked about the trafficking, Obada said he was too young to be scared.
“I didn’t have any say about what was happening in my life,” he said. “I was ignorant to it. As I got older I started learning about the system and I realized I kind of fell into that category.”
Obada and his sister were abandoned in the streets of London shortly after they arrived there.
“My main focus was to stay safe, just try to find some place to stay,” Obada said.
Obada eventually got a job as a security guard for Grace Foods and began playing football for the London Warriors of the British American Football Association.
It was there, based on a recommendation by defensive coordinator Aden Durde, a former intern with the Cowboys, that Obada got a tryout with the Cowboys. He began working as a tight end before being moved to defensive end.
While he likely won’t be active for Sunday’s game against Dallas, Obada is indebted to the Cowboys for giving him a chance.
“Everything else I feel I’ve earned,” he said. “I’m just focused on football. It’s good being a story and being the first to do it. Now I have to keep going. I have to prove to people that believe in me, people that’s given me an opportunity, that I have the right to be here.”
DETROIT — Darryl Rogers, who coached Michigan State to a share of the Big Ten title in 1978 and later took the helm for the Detroit Lions, has died. He was 83.
The Lions said Rogers’ family confirmed his death Wednesday.
Rogers coached Michigan State from 1976 to 1979, going 24-18-2. The 1978 team, which included star flanker Kirk Gibson, won its final seven games to finish tied for first in the conference.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Darryl Rogers and his family at this most difficult time,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. “Coach Rogers won the 1978 Big Ten championship at Michigan State and was, in many ways, an offensive pioneer in college football. I was honored to have had the opportunity to talk to him a number of times throughout my time here and he was always very supportive. He loved Michigan State and will forever be a Spartan.”
Rogers also coached at Arizona State from 1980 to ’84 before heading to the NFL. He was with the Lions from 1985 to ’88.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Darryl,” Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford said. “On behalf of me, my family and the entire Detroit Lions organization, I would like to extend our sincere sympathy to his wife, Marsha, and the Rogers family.”
Rogers played wide receiver and defensive back at Fresno State and became the coach there in 1966. He also coached San Jose State from 1973 to 1975 before taking over at Michigan State.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Leonard Fournette was a big part of the beginning of the Raines High School football team’s 2017 season, so it’s only fitting that he’s a significant part of the end of it, too.
The school was able to purchase 85 rings for players and coaches to commemorate the state championship it won in the fall, but didn’t have enough funds to purchase jackets. That’s when the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ second-year running back partnered with MET-Rx to donate the remaining funds needed to ensure the players and coaches each received a jacket.
“They were very humbled,” Raines head football coach Deran Wiley said of his players. “They were very grateful.
“When I told them, those guys, the look in their eyes, they were very, very thankful.”
This is the second time Fournette and the supplement company have combined to help the Raines High School football program. They partnered to melt down some of Fournette’s old football trophies and turn them into a set of weights, which they presented to the school last summer.
“I think everyone should give back,” Fournette said. “No matter what’s going on in your life I think the best thing for you is to give back, and I had the opportunity to do that. … When I was in high school I wish someone came back and gave to us, so I just want to be that next generation of leader and do a lot of things by example.
“Whatever school needs help. As long as I’m here in Jacksonville still playing, my arms are open wide to any school. I want to see everybody prosper.”
As important as the weights and jackets are, Wiley said it was the time Fournette spent with the players on the day the weights were donated that had the most impact. Not only did Fournette talk with them, joke around, and give a short motivational speech, but he also spoke via FaceTime with New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — who, like Fournette, is a former LSU star — and gave several players a ride in his Mercedes-Maybach.
It’s not unusual for former NFL players to be around the program. Raines High School has produced numerous NFL stars, including Lito Sheppard, Harold Carmichael, Brian Dawkins, and Shawn Jefferson — in addition to countless Football Bowl Subdivision standouts. Players often stop by the school to visit or help out, and many have donated money to the program. The program’s weight room, for example, is named after Dawkins.
Those players have ties to the program, though. Fournette doesn’t, and that’s what made his visit special, Wiley said.
“What makes it feel natural and a little normal is our former players, because we have so many,” Wiley said. “Brian’s been here numerous times and been generous with his donations as well to the facilities, equipment and all those things. To get this guy, Leonard Fournette, who has no connection, it was just huge. It felt big. The whole time he was here it felt big. It was a ‘wow’ moment.
“You could tell his genuineness to be here and to talk to the kids, not forgetting where he came from. … It was a great moment for us and one I won’t forget.”
It turned into a season Fournette won’t forget, either. The Vikings went 13-1 and won the Class 4A state title, beating Cocoa High School 13-10 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. They scored the go-ahead touchdown on Ivory Durham’s 8-yard pass to receiver Kamaree Noble with 5:41 remaining.
That victory came nearly 20 years to the day after Raines won its first state title in 1997. Raines is the only public school from Duval County — which encompasses the entire city of Jacksonville — to win a state championship in football.
That’s why Noble said he’s eagerly awaiting his jacket.
“I’ll wear it every day! You feel me?” Noble said. “We won a state championship! A lot of people can’t say that.”
Fournette is one of them. He rushed for 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns in his four-year career at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. He was the 2013 USA Today High School Football Offensive Player of the Year, too. But his teams never won a state title, so he’s taking a lot of satisfaction in his adopted school’s success.
“I’m not going to say I was out there running with them and lifting weights, but it feels good to be a part of that just a little bit and just to see those guys become successful on the next level,” Fournette said.
As far as Wiley is concerned, Fournette certainly deserves a piece of the Vikings’ latest title.
“The road to [a state title] there’s a lot of great people along the way that you have to thank,” Wiley said. “He’s definitely one of the guys I would have to thank.”
HOUSTON — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said the NFL’s new anthem policy is “idiotic,” a policy that will prevent players from kneeling during the national anthem.
“I think it’s just typical of the NFL,” Kerr responded when asked about the league’s new policy after shootaround on Thursday in advanced of Game 5 of the conference finals. “They’re just playing off their fan base and they’re just basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic, but that’s how the NFL has handled their business.”
NFL owners unanimously approved the new policy on Wednesday. Under the new guideline, players will be allowed to remain in the locker room while the anthem is being played. Any violation of the rule would result in fines levied against the teams.
Players are required to stand if they are on the field during the national anthem. Full story »
President Donald Trump called the new policy “good” for the NFL and even went on to say any player who doesn’t kneel, “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Kerr furthermore blasted the NFL’s decision to implement such a policy and applauded the NBA’s handling of social justice matters.
“I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech,” he said. It’s about peacefully protesting. I think our leaders in the NBA understand that when an NFL player is kneeling, they were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They’re weren’t disrespecting the flag or the military, but our president decided to make it about that and the NFL followed suit and pandered to their fan base by creating this hysteria.
“It’s kind of what’s wrong with our country. People in high places are trying to divide us, divide loyalties, make this about the flag, as if the flag is something other than what it really is. It’s a representation of what we’re about, which is diversity, peaceful protest, the abilities, the right to free speech. So, it’s really ironic, actually, what the NFL is doing.”
Former NFL offensive lineman Richie Incognito thought he was under surveillance by government officials when he was taken by police officers — who believed him to be in an “altered, paranoid state,” according to an incident report — for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation Wednesday in Boca Raton, Florida.
According to an incident report by the Boca Raton Police Department, obtained Thursday by ESPN, the 34-year-old Incognito “believed ordinary citizens were government officials that were tracking and recording him.” He was not arrested but was taken into custody under Florida’s Baker Act, which allows for involuntary psychiatric commitment for people seen as a danger to themselves or others.
The Baker Act requires that a person taken in for involuntary commitment remain under observation for a minimum of 72 hours after being deemed stable.
Police were called when an apparently agitated Incognito allegedly threw tennis balls and other items at a Lifetime Fitness Center patron and employees, “skimmed” the patron’s leg with a weighted sled and threw weights at the patron and into the swimming pool.
When officers approached him, Incognito told them he was “running NSA class level 3 documents through my phone” and didn’t have to explain himself to officers because they didn’t have enough clearance, according to the incident report. When later told by officers that his behavior might pose a danger to others, Incognito asked a woman in the swimming pool to call the FBI.
According to the officers, Incognito also said he had taken an over-the-counter supplement called “Shroom Tech” and that his hands were shaking heavily, he had erratic speech and he “would suddenly jump up and move locations without warning.”
According to the incident report, officers didn’t believe Incognito had any intent to harm anyone but that “without care or treatment, there was a substantial likelihood Incognito would cause serious bodily harm to himself or others as evidenced by recent behavior.”
Because of Incognito’s “muscular frame,” officers said they used two sets of handcuffs linked together and double locked them.
Incognito announced this year that he was retiring after 11 seasons in the NFL, the last three with the Buffalo Bills. The Bills released him from their reserved/retired list Monday, leaving open the possibility he could sign with another team.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection has had a series of troubles. Incognito was among the players identified for targeting teammate Jonathan Martin in the Miami Dolphins‘ bullying scandal during the 2013 season. The NFL suspended Incognito for the final half of that season, and he was eventually released by Miami before being reinstated by the league the following offseason.
Incognito was out of football for 18 months before the Bills signed him to a one-year contract. Incognito told The Buffalo News that he made the decision to retire for health-related reasons, saying, “My liver and kidneys are shutting down. The stress is killing me.”
The retirement came after Incognito and the Bills agreed to a renegotiated contract in March that included a $1.7 million pay cut in 2018, which would have been the last year of his contract. Days before retiring in April, Incognito fired his agent, David Dunn, in a tweet.
At the time of his retirement, Incognito remained under investigation by the NFL for an allegation made by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue that Incognito used racial slurs during the Bills’ AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Jaguars in January.
ESPN’s Mike Rodak and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Barrett will face an uphill climb to crack the Saints’ 53-man roster, although Brees’ backup job is a wide-open competition after they let veteran Chase Daniel leave in free agency.
Head coach Sean Payton appears enamored with dual-threat quarterback Hill, who signed with New Orleans last September after being cut as an undrafted rookie by the Green Bay Packers. Hill excelled in special-teams kick coverage for the Saints.
New Orleans signed Savage, the former Houston Texans starter, to compete with Hill.
Brees is 39 years old, so the Saints will eventually need to find his successor. But they didn’t draft one this year, and they don’t have a first-round pick in 2019 after trading it to move up for defensive end Marcus Davenport in this year’s draft.
Barrett had been invited to try out at the Indianapolis Colts‘ rookie minicamp this weekend before reportedly signing the deal with the Saints.
Barrett threw for 3,053 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season for the Buckeyes. He also rushed for 798 yards and 12 touchdowns.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State fan favorite Ryan Shazier visited the spring game Saturday and stood without assistance to cheers from the crowd at his alma mater.
The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker is recovering from a devastating spinal injury suffered in a Dec. 4 game against the Bengals.
Shazier, an honorary captain of one of the squads, drove a golf cart to midfield and climbed out to stand briefly to fire up the crowd. He then embraced the other honorary captain, former Ohio State cornerback and current Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
“Every day I’m getting a lot better and I’m able to move around more,” Shazier told ESPN’s Marty Smith. “I’m doing a thousand times better than I was in December.”
Shazier said he is grateful for the outpouring of support from people “from Pittsburgh to California to Ohio to Italy, all over the country, all over the world,” who have reached out to him and prayed for him.
The love and support “really helps me push even harder every day,” Shazier said.
He also spoke to the team before the game. He told reporters that “I am feeling a lot better than I was.”
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The NFL pre-draft process isn’t the time for consensus building. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a single prospect to soften the skeptical eyes of pro personnel evaluators.
Much less a group of prospects.
Much less a group of prospects from one university.
But three weeks from the draft, no contingent of college teammates has made a stronger case than the one from Penn State. It started in Florida, days after a PlayStation Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington that cemented PSU’s second consecutive 11-win season, as Lions draft hopefuls began training at spots around the state. It continued as Penn State “won” the NFL scouting combine with 13 medals — players who finished first, second or third in events at their respective positions — the most of any school. The magical week in Indianapolis included dominance from Mike Gesicki and Saquon Barkley, NFL Network shout-outs for strength and conditioning chief Dwight Galt, and Deion Sanders trying to find the words to describe Troy Apke’s speed.
You would think this was our pro day with the amount of conversation going on about Penn State players dominating the @NFL Combine. No surprise to us though 🤐 #WeAre
Penn State’s pre-draft showcase ended back on campus March 20, as players built or augmented their draft profiles at pro day.
After producing just one draft pick in 2017 — wide receiver Chris Godwin, a third-round selection — Penn State is poised for a larger and glitzier output.
“We’ve got some very talented, talented people,” cornerback Grant Haley said. “Everyone was talented coming into college, but now with the help of coach [James] Franklin and the defensive staff, offensive staff, especially Coach Galt and the weight-room staff, we were able to take that to the next level. The whole program is changing, not just the football aspect, but beyond football.
“The testing efforts have really been impressive.”
Like all victories in football, Penn State’s combine triumph doesn’t stem only from the toil of recent months, but rather years. Apke remembers his first series of workouts with Galt in 2014.
“The first day we got in there as freshmen, we tested well,” said Apke, whose combine 40-yard dash time of 4.34 seconds was the best among safeties by six one-hundreths of a second. “With Coach Galt, we pushed through a lot of stuff, a lot of work. We knew we were going to test well. We trained really hard the last four years.”
Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton started his Penn State career in 2013, when the program was still processing the historic NCAA sanctions handed down the previous summer. Hamilton thinks the sanctions created “a whole different type of work ethic” on the roster.
In January 2014, Penn State hired Franklin. The new coach brought in Galt, who had been Franklin’s strength coach at Vanderbilt following a lengthy run at Maryland, where he trained eventual first-round draft picks Vernon Davis and Shawne Merriman.
“Big Deeg, he’s done a great job,” said Hamilton, who ran a 4.52 in the 40 at Penn State’s pro day after competing in other events at the combine and performing well at both the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game. “He transformed me. Some guys usually hit their peaks by their second or third year, but at least with me, he’s helped me get stronger every single year. He’s helped me get faster and quicker.”
Penn State’s combine performance wouldn’t have popped nationally without big performances from its draft headliners. While Barkley fell short of his personal expectations, he still led running backs in the vertical jump (41 inches), tied for the lead in bench-press reps (29) and finished second in the 40-yard dash (4.40 seconds). Gesicki nearly swept the events for tight ends, finishing first in the vertical jump (41.5 inches), broad jump (10 feet, 9 inches), three-cone drill (6.76 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.10 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.33 seconds), tying for first in the 40 (4.54 seconds) and finishing second in the bench press (22 reps, one behind the leader).
After a solid on-field workout at pro day, Gesicki put himself in the first-round conversation as one of the top four draftable tight ends. He called the pre-draft period “a dream come true.”
“The main goal with Mike was don’t mess him up,” said Russ Orr, a performance manager at EXOS training, who coached Gesicki during his draft prep. “We saw the potential he had walking through the door. Mike had some lofty goals to run very, very fast for his position. For him, it was learning proper start technique, proper running technique. How do we put him in the best position to express his speed and athleticism?”
Gesicki, a standout volleyball and basketball player in high school, had the leaping ability to excel in the vertical and the broad jumps, especially when he learned explosive jumping from a set position. He had produced on the field, both for Penn State (129 catches for 1,481 yards) and in the Senior Bowl, but faced doubts about his 40 — “Definitely the money drill,” Orr said — because of his long strides (he measured 6-foot-5 at the combine). At EXOS, Gesicki spent extra time reviewing video of finishing a sprint at top speed, and delivered in Indianapolis.
“Some people were not expecting me to run that 4.54,” he said. “But I know my speed and my abilities and all that kind of stuff. In that aspect of it, I was able to open up some eyes.”
Barkley had the eyes of the NFL all season. He didn’t need a huge combine to become a top pick. Yet Barkley, who would later declare himself “not a combine guy,” showed up ready to work when he arrived at Tom Shaw Performance in Orlando.
A shoulder sprain in the Fiesta Bowl delayed his lifting until mid-January, and he didn’t rep-out at 225 pounds until about a month before the combine. His first lift: 27 repetitions. In mid-February, Barkley ran a 4.29 in the 40, so his actual combine time, despite impressing others, came as a bit of a disappointment.
“The only person I can compare him to physically as impressive is Khalil Mack,” said Shaw Performance coach Bert Whigham, who also worked with Mack, the No. 5 overall selection in 2014 who has made three Pro Bowls as a linebacker with the Raiders. “And he’s going to work harder to be the best version of himself. You come across very few of those kinds of people in life.
Penn State safety Marcus Allen trained alongside Barkley at Shaw Performance. He worked to get leaner and to release tension in his hips so he would be more explosive in the 40.
The result: 4.59 seconds at PSU’s pro day.
“In six weeks, he turned from having a little bit of a tire around his waist to shredded,” Whigham said. “It was awesome. Those guys don’t live by comparison. They’re trying to max out their ability. That’s how you put up arguably the best combine performance of all-time in Saquon, and that’s how you broad-jump a 10.7 for Marcus at 215 [pounds], and you vertical 37 inches, and then you run a 4.59 on your pro day.”
Combine trainers who worked with Penn State players described them as strong natural athletes who thrived in the school’s developmental program and entered the pre-draft process with no entitlement. “I’m not taking anything away from any other team, but those guys are unbelievable,” said Orr, who also worked with wide receiver Saaed Blacknall, who clocked a 4.39 in the 40 at pro day, and linebacker Jason Cabinda.
“They obviously have a high standard for performance,” said Brian Stamper, a Tom Shaw performance coach. “It’s not like they’re having to dig down and draw out the ability to finish and do things the right way and do them well. It’s innate. This is what I need to do. There’s no other way to do it. That’s the biggest thing I see consistently around there.”
While satisfied with the players’ pre-draft performance, neither Franklin nor Galt seemed the least bit surprised. Sitting in his office flanking Penn State’s cavernous weight room, where players’ lifting and speed records line a wall stretching up to an extra-high ceiling, Galt said, “They see the numbers all the time on the board. So it’s a collateral positive to what’s happening in the combine.”
“For us, we kind of knew,” Franklin added. “Every year our guys that go to the combine test pretty much like we say they’re going to test. Chris Godwin, no one agreed with us — everybody thought he wasn’t going to run that fast, and he did. And all of the guys we’ve had at Vanderbilt and here who have gone to the combine have pretty much tested exactly the way we said they would, which is good because we know the way we’re doing it is consistent.”
How Penn State’s pre-draft blitz translates in Dallas remains to be seen. Barkley’s name will be called, perhaps first overall, and Gesicki’s shortly thereafter. Penn State will eclipse last year’s output. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.
But the praise Penn State has received during a notoriously nitpicky process should have an impact on the program for years to come.
“We’ve set a standard that everybody’s going to have to try and match; everybody’s going to try and exceed that,” Hamilton said. “If they do, then they’re obviously on the right pace.”