Carl Nassib remembers the conversation well. The defensive end from Penn State told his then-coach, Bill O’Brien, he wanted to go to the NFL. O’Brien, who had come from the NFL with the New England Patriots and would later leave again for the NFL and the Houston Texans, didn’t exactly give overwhelming support.
O’Brien told reporters in Houston he questioned Nassib’s football commitment that day and told him to focus on trying to get on the field at Penn State, not an NFL one. Nassib was a walk-on at the time, so the advice made some sense. But it stuck with Nassib, who stuck with his ambitious plans even if his then-coach wasn’t as sure.
“There’s some satisfaction in proving any person wrong,” Nassib says now. “I don’t hold anything against coach O’Brien. Without his motivation, I don’t know if I would be here, so I’m thankful for him and thankful for what he taught me.”
It wasn’t like Nassib turned down mid-level programs to try and walk-on at Penn State. Nassib said he didn’t have many offers at all out of Malvern Prep in West Chester, Pennsylvania, so when the younger brother of New York Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib heard anything at all from the Nittany Lions, he took it.
Nassib ended up earning a scholarship at Penn State in 2013. And he credits O’Brien -- who he says he has a great relationship with -- for being part of his success. By 2014, he was one of the better players in the Big Ten. Last season, he was one of the top defensive ends in the country, setting Penn State’s single-season sack record with 15.5 and forcing six fumbles. He won the Lombardi Award as the best defensive lineman or linebacker and the Hendricks Award for the country’s top defensive end.
In other words, he was a long way from O’Brien’s initial advice. It’s put him in position to reach the NFL, something that should happen later this month. He’s the No. 8 defensive end according to Scouts, Inc. and the No. 77 overall player. That should put him somewhere in the second day of the draft, where he could be attractive to the Detroit Lions, who need defensive ends.
Nassib projects to be better against the run than the pass, something important for the Lions as they try to find a complement at end to emerging star Ezekiel Ansah, one of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the NFL. Nassib showed in college he can be a strong pass-rusher as well.
His size -- 6-foot-7, 277 pounds -- could also push him inside on third downs to be an interior pass-rusher, somewhat similar to how the Lions have used Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp in the past. So he could be an intriguing player for Detroit on Day 2.
It’s a long way from when he came into Penn State weighing less than 220 pounds, paying his own way with visions of med school after football was over.
“I always thought I was a defensive end and I love playing defensive end and it was the position I played in high school,” Nassib said. “I never really cared what other people thought about my size or my ability. I was always confident in myself.”
That showed throughout his college career as he made himself into an NFL prospect. Along the way, he followed when his brother went through the process after being a quarterback at Syracuse. Ryan was a potential first-round pick, though, and quarterbacks typically garner more pre-draft attention due to the nature of the position.
Now, he’s going through it himself, auditioning for the coach who once doubted him and hoping to join his brother in the NFL.