For many college football players, being invited to the Senior Bowl is more than just a final honor -- it’s the informal job interview that could just get them the real job interview.
That’s how Harvard’s Kyle Juszczyk saw it. The two-time All-American tight end was thrilled to get an invitation to the game -- and to the week of practices leading up to it, in Mobile, Ala. It would give the Ohio native one more chance to perform for scouts and NFL front-office personnel, to prove that his skills can translate to the next level.
“It’s been a great experience,” Juszczyk said by phone during the week. “It’s been a great opportunity for me to come out here and kind of prove myself and play with the best of the best.”
After finishing his career as Harvard’s all-time leader in receptions (125), receiving yards (1,576) and touchdown catches (22) by a tight end, Juszczyk’s quest to continue his football career likely means transitioning to a new position, fullback. He played there some for the Crimson, so it isn’t completely foreign territory for him.
That said, there has been a learning curve.
“The hardest part is kinda getting used to being in the backfield and kinda being the eyes of the running back at times,” he said. “As the fullback you have to make that initial read and find the hole for the running back and lead him up there. That’s something I don’t have a lot of experience doing.
“But it’s something that I feel I’ve been able to grasp pretty quickly,” he added.
Prior to the Senior Bowl, Juszczyk (pronounced USE-check) prepared at TEST Football Academy. TEST founder and CEO Brian Martin said they are working with more than 60 prospects this season, helping prepare them for the NFL combine or for free-agent workouts if they aren’t invited to the big league prod-and-test session.
“We basically go six days a week for six to eight weeks,” Martin said of the typical TEST program. “We focus heavily on flexibility and mobility. Once they’re healthy and have a strong foundation, we get into a lot of strength training and power training, but our main focus is on speed training and positional work.”
Martin praised Juszczyk’s work ethic and said teams love his Harvard background. While Martin believes Juszczyk should get drafted, as of Monday the 6-foot-1, 242-pounder ranked 10th at the fullback position with a grade of 30 from Scouts Inc. That labels him a borderline draft prospect.
Scouts Inc.’s Steve Muench saw Juszczyk practice on Tuesday of Senior Bowl week, and said that while the odds are stacked against a fullback from Harvard because of positional value and competition level, Juszczyk did some good things in that practice.
Muench said he thinks Juszczyk is a bit short to play tight end in the NFL, but that he caught the ball fairly well and appeared to be a tough blocker in both the run game and in pass protection.
“I still would be surprised if he gets drafted any earlier than late sixth or seventh [round], but I do think a team will bring him in and give him a shot to make the roster during training camp if he goes undrafted,” Muench said in an e-mail. “The key for him -- and this is the case for most fringe NFL roster prospects -- will be his ability to contribute on special teams. He has to show he can help in that area if he’s to make an opening-day roster.”
For his part, Juszczyk believes his skill set will translate.
“I’ve always prided myself as a physical player, so the fullback position fits that description perfectly,” he said. “I definitely feel like I can be an effective fullback at the next level. But I also feel like other parts of my skill set can still be used. I’ve gotten that opportunity as well here. I haven’t strictly played fullback, I’ve been in the slot. I’ve been able to show I can do that, as well.”
It only takes one team to get drafted, and Juszczyk hopes he did enough this week and on Saturday, when he had four carries for 9 yards in the North’s 21-16 loss to the South, to get a combine invite so he can further his case.
And if that invite doesn’t come and he doesn’t hear his name called during April’s draft?
“If I don’t get drafted, hopefully I’ll get a phone call right afterwards and be a free agent,” Juszczyk said.
Juszczyk can always return to Harvard and finish up his degree in economics (he’s four classes short of graduation). But he’s not thinking about that at the moment.
“At this point I don’t really have a backup plan,” he said. “Hopefully I won’t need one.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.