LEVARSE: Penn State football players boost their draft stock at combine, pro day

(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
  • As many as eight Penn State players could be selected in the 2018 NFL draft.
  • Running back Saquon Barkley is expected to be picked high in the first round.
  • DaeSean Hamilton and Troy Apke have been impressive in offseason workouts.

When the numbers were tallied up, Penn State had representatives from all 32 NFL teams in attendance at Tuesday’s pro day.

Penn State wide receiver Daesean Hamilton participates in a drill at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Thirty-seven scouts. Fourteen assistant coaches. Two general managers — the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kevin Colbert and the Oakland Raiders’ Reggie McKenzie. One rep from the Canadian Football League.

And, uh, one WWE talent scout.

Well, the Nittany Lions did expect to draw a lot of attention with their crop this year.

Marcus Allen and Mike Gesicki might fare pretty well as pro wrestlers — to say nothing of the XFL starting back up. For now, they’ll settle for hearing their names called at next month’s NFL draft.

Saquon Barkley, Gesicki and Allen may be the headliners, but the group is looking much deeper after the results of the past month between the NFL scouting combine and Penn State’s pro day. As many as eight Lions have appeared in recent mock drafts, which would be the second-highest total for the program since the draft was reduced to seven rounds.

“I can say this — we’re the hardest-working team in college football for the past four years,” wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton said. “Ever since those sanctions hit, you could just see a whole different kind of work ethic. It starts with a small group of guys, and then it gets contagious.”

Hamilton on rise: Hamilton may be the biggest riser of all the Lions. He performed so well during the week of one senior all-star game that he got invited to the highest-profile one — the Senior Bowl — a week later.

Far more of a technician than a speedster, his lone concern was his 40-yard dash time, which threatened some of the gains he made in the eyes of scouts. While his mark of 4.52 seconds won’t win him any awards, it’s fast enough to perhaps land him into the second day of the draft in Round 3.

“When one person says something, it’s going to spread like wildfire and everyone’s going to run with it,” Hamilton said of critiques of his speed. “They continue to knock your game. I guess that’s how football is.

“I bit the bullet and kept working. I wasn’t really worried about what everyone was saying about my straight-line speed. I didn’t even know what I was going to run because you don’t really run 40s during your training process. You just keep working and working and you surprise yourself.

“I just knew on my pro day, I was going to be able to show everybody.”

Penn State defensive back Troy Apke runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Apke raises eyebrows: Another combine beneficiary has been safety Troy Apke, who went from afterthought to becoming a potential late-round flier thanks to eyebrow-raising testing numbers — a 4.34-second 40, a 41-inch vertical and a 10-foot-11 broad jump, all of which put him first or second among all draft-eligible Lions.

He even went viral when Hall of Famer Deion Sanders reacted so strongly to his 40 time that he called Apke over for a hug and congratulations during NFL Network’s live broadcast.

“I’m still myself,” Apke said of the buzz around him. “But there’s probably been a little more attention from people. They see my speed and my agility and my ability. But I wanted to show them (at pro day) what I can do in drills and my footwork, which I think I did.”

Cornerback Christian Campbell could end up being drafted in the middle rounds thanks to a few 99th-percentile testing numbers to go with a 6-foot-1 frame. Fellow corner Grant Haley and linebacker Jason Cabinda also got the opportunity to work out at both the combine and pro day while interviewing with various teams.

Strength coach gets accolades: One name that kept coming up among all of the Lions was Dwight Galt. That would be Penn State’s veteran strength coach who had previously worked with coach James Franklin at Vanderbilt and Maryland. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock praised Galt during the broadcast of the combine.

“He’s done a great job. He transformed me,” Hamilton said. “He helped me get stronger every single year. Some guys usually hit their peaks by their second or third year. At least for me, he’s helped me get stronger, faster and quicker every year. He’s not running us into the ground. He makes sure the training staff is taking care of our bodies and that we’re taking care of our bodies.”

“We had some guys who went to the Combine and who were extremely successful and opened some eyes,” Gesicki said. “You just roll through Twitter and see a picture of (him) every four scrolls. It’s been cool for him to get that kind of recognition he deserves because he’s been doing this for a long time. He’s trained some really top-notch athletes and some top-notch NFL players.”

“I think when we came in, we all tested pretty good,” Apke said. “But I think it’s just the work we put in the past four years with coach Galt that’s done it.”

Setting an example: For the rest of the Penn State program, the hope is that future classes take their cue from this group of NFL hopefuls — regardless of what round they’re drafted in.

“You see guys like Saquon, Mike and Troy put up big numbers, and it makes everyone else at Penn State or who are committed to Penn State want to be like them,” Hamilton said. “That’s going to drive their work ethic and their goals. They’re going to set a higher standard for themselves.

“From how hard we’ve worked and how well we’ve performed, we’ve now set a standard that everyone’s going to have to try to match what we’ve done. Everyone’s going to try to exceed that. If they do that, they’re obviously on the right track.”