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Published: Saturday, 3/9/2013

Buckeyes try to wow NFL scouts during pro day

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS — Johnathan Hankins came to Ohio State’s downsized version of the NFL scouting combine Friday to keep his draft stock from slipping.

Reid Fragel came to keep his accelerating.

Kharim Stephens? Well, the former college sprinter-turned-defensive-lineman who had never played football until 15 months ago just wanted to get noticed.

"I would love to get an invitation to a camp," Stephens said after a three-hour workout on the Buckeyes’ indoor field.

Dreamers all of them, some came in pursuit of riches, others a shot — no matter how long it may be. In all, 13 former Buckeyes sought to make scouts and coaches from 28 NFL teams believe they were just the player their franchise needed.

For many, it was a final mass audition. Tight end Jake Stoneburner, for instance, wanted to improve on his 40-yard dash time from last month’s combine — 4.65 seconds — and did just that, clocking in at 4.52 seconds before catching one deep ball after another from former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.

"I can roll out of bed and throw spirals, what can I say?" said Smith, 28, who now works in the OSU athletic department but joked he would entertain a comeback if his hometown Cleveland Browns called.

Hankins, meanwhile, probably could roll out of bed and command a double team. The day’s most hyped prospect, the 6-foot-3, 320-pound defensive tackle left Ohio State a season early with the understanding he was a likely first-round draft selection in the April draft. Now that most analysts have bumped him to the second round, the Buckeyes’ top run-stuffer is out to prove otherwise to those whose decisions matter.

"I expect to be a first-round draft pick," said Hankins, who went through a limited workout after deciding to let his results stand from the combine in Indianapolis. "That’s one of my goals. ... If you sit there and watch the film, you'll see it. I don't really take too much time thinking about where people are projecting me to go."

Fragel remained on an opposite trajectory. The buzz around the 6-foot-8, 308-pound right tackle keeps rising with each passing workout. He has the athleticism of a former tight end and Popeye muscles — his 33 bench-press repetitions of 225 pounds led offensive tackles at the combine. Fragel’s one season of experience on the line is glaring, but he flips that to say, "I have a lot less tread on my tires than a lot of these linemen, and I think that's a positive."

Fragel, the grandson of former Rossford basketball coach Joe Stalma, is one of the Buckeyes’ top potential upper-round selections along with Hankins, and defensive end John Simon.

"There’s no doubt in my mind I can do it," he said. "By the end of the season, I was so confident in my game. I felt totally natural."

Stephens could not say the same, though in fairness, he only began playing American football two years ago. The New York City native represented the session’s longest shot and its best story.

Growing up in Queens, Stephens played soccer and competed in track and field, though not in the events you would peg a man who now stands 6-foot-2, 280 pounds. He ran cross country all four years of high school and went to Finger Lakes Community College in upstate New York as a sprinter. Yes, though he hit a growth spurt, he was a 260-pound sprinter as a freshman.

"The other sprinters were way smaller," he said. "My coach was impressed."

Stephens said he "grew out of the track body" after his freshman season, and transferred to Ohio State a year later. "The next sport I thought I would love to try was football," he said.

So, eventually, he joined the Buckeyes as a walk-on, and spent his final year of college training with the nation’s only unbeaten team. Though the recent graduate did not play in games, Stephens is hoping his speed and agility will capture a team’s eye. He ended his day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex in conversation with Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel.

For Stephens, like everyone else, the dream was alive.

"Some of the feedback that I’ve heard is the [scouts] like that I’m a very big, athletic guy," said Stephens, who hopes to teach physical education if his new pastime does not work out. "I just hope I'll get invited to a camp."

Other former Buckeyes who worked out included fullback/linebacker Zach Boren, defensive tackle Garrett Goebel, cornerback Travis Howard, safety Orhian Johnson, linebacker Etienne Sabino, defensive end Nathan Williams, and receiver Taylor Rice.



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