Proving their worth

YOUNGSTOWN – More than a dozen NFL scouts are expected to be in the Mahoning Valley on Wednesday for Youngstown State University’s pro day.

YSU coach Eric Wolford is a veteran of the event – having coached in the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, Pac-10 and Big 12 during his career – and while he understands the immense pressure for the six Penguins, his advice is simple.

“The biggest thing is that you have to relax,” he said. “You can’t be uptight. If you’re uptight, then your muscles are going to be tight, and you won’t go out and perform well. That’s easier said than done though, because this has been a dream for these guys since they were little kids.”

Quarterback Kurt Hess, tight end/fullback Carson Sharbaugh, corner Dale Peterman, punter Nick Liste and offensive linemen Chris Elkins and Kyle Bryant are taking part in the pro day. Wolford said a few of have legitimate shots at being picked up as free agents, and specifically pointed out Liste, a Niles native who was one of the top punters in the country the last two seasons.

“There’s been a lot of teams that showed interest in him,” Wolford said. “So I think he’s in really good shape.”

The day begins at 8 a.m. at the Watson and Tressel Training Site (WATTS) and starts with the bench press and vertical leap. Players are then divided up and put through other tests, such as the 40-yard dash and agility/cone drills.

Wolford said he expects between 12-15 scouts to be on hand and added that the pro day “is a big deal” for NFL teams. It could be especially big for Elkins, a two-time all-conference player and a second-team All-American as a senior.

“I’m kind of excited to see him test because some of the early indications are that the numbers he’s putting up could put him in the top five (of all college offensive linemen),” Wolford said. “If he can go out and do that, I think that will solidify his chances.”

Wolford said he’s confident Elkins and Bryant, a 6-foot-7, 320-pound tackle, will be picked up as free agents or possibly drafted. Wolford, who coached offensive line at South Carolina, Arizona and Illinois, said their ability to play two different positions (Elkins at center or guard, Bryant at guard or tackle) is a key attribute to have at the next level.

“(They) were invited to the East-West Shrine Game,” said Wolford of the college all-star game in Florida. “That’s a pretty big deal to be invited to that.”

Hess, who set nearly every passing record in school history as a four-year starter, played in the College All-Star Bowl last month. The 6-3, 230-pound Hess possesses sharp accuracy and the work ethic needed at the next level, Wolford said.

“He’s been coached in a pro-style system, meaning we use a lot of concepts they do in the NFL,” Wolford said. “(Offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery) has coached a lot of guys who have went on to play in the NFL, and Shane feels really good about his chances and definitely thinks he’ll get that opportunity.

“There will always be the question about what is his real arm strength. Can he throw the deep out? That’s what he’ll get a chance to do.”

Peterman, an Ursuline graduate, and Sharbaugh, from Wilmington, Pa., both missed time throughout their careers because of injuries, which means Wednesday will hold added importance for them.

“A lot of their opportunities will be based on how they perform,” Wolford said. “Probably the biggest question mark is how fast they are.”

NFL scouts will find out that and much more, and Wolford expects them to like what they see. His confidence stems from the good habits the players picked up during their time at YSU.

“It’s kind of like preparing for a football game,” he said. “If you work hard and do things right during the week, and you prepare the right way, you should have confidence. It shouldn’t be a surprise to go out and do well. Do what we’ve always preached around here and that’s, ‘Preparation will always get you where you want to go.’ Just go out, be yourself and enjoy the moment. Be grateful that you have this opportunity.”