JK Schaffer spent the last four years proving people
After not being heavily recruited out of LaSalle High School, Schaffer concluded his college career as a First-Team All-Big East linebacker - one of only four players in league history to have more than 100 tackles in three straight seasons.
So as far as JK is concerned, not being invited to next week's NFL Scouting Combine is par for the course.
"I've always used that stuff for motivation," Schaffer told me. "When I was in high school, people told me that I wouldn't play in Division I. Now, it's not getting invited to the combine or people saying, 'He's too small, he's too whatever.' I just take all of that stuff and think about it on that last run of conditioning drills when I'm struggling and don't want to do it anymore. It's another reason to go out and prove people wrong. I also look at it as giving me an extra week to train and get ready for Pro Day."
While fellow seniors Isaiah Pead, Derek Wolfe, and John Hughes will be in Indianapolis when the combine starts on Wednesday, Schaffer's opportunity to work out for NFL scouts will come on March 2nd when UC holds its annual Pro Day.
Schaffer, an excellent student who was recently named the Big East Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year, is now busy cramming for the tests he'll get from NFL scouts.
"It's all about Pro Day," said Schaffer. "About 3 ½ weeks ago, I moved up to Barrington, Illinois which is a little northwest of Chicago and is where my agent is based. I'm living and training with two guys from Northern Illinois University while taking 15 hours of online classes because I want to be able to graduate by June. We work out three to four times a day and at the field house where we have the weight room and the field where we do all of our position drills and running. We have basketball courts where we do different things and there's a pilates room which we use twice a week. That's basically my life right now - training six days a week for most of the day and then coming back to the house and doing a little homework."
Schaffer, who was listed at 6'1, 227 this year, is trying to get bigger and stronger while shaving a fraction of a second off of his 40-yard dash and shuttle run times.
"I'm trying to put on a little bit of weight," JK told me. "I've never really been above 230 in my life, so I'm trying to get to 235. Obviously, I can't improve my height, although I would really like to. You can't get that much faster, but what you can improve is your technique. I know that I didn't understand technique, so we're working with a lot of guys who know what they're doing."
While Schaffer was not invited to the combine, he was selected for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl - an all-star game in California where he played for former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil.
"The whole week leading up to the game was great, but unfortunately, I played four seasons at Cincinnati and didn't miss a play due to injury, and pretty early-on in that All-Star Game, I took a helmet to the hip and got a hip pointer," said Schaffer. "I couldn't even stand up, so I got taken out of the game. That's why you didn't see much of me. I'm fully recovered from that, so it's not a problem. I was sore for a couple of weeks, but it was not a serious injury."
Wes Welker, Osi Umenyiora, and Jay Ratliff are among the current NFL players who have been to multiple Pro Bowls despite not being invited to the combine, and while UC head coach Butch Jones is not necessarily predicting Pro Bowl appearances in Schaffer's future, he has been singing JK's praises to NFL teams.
"The scouting process is not an exact science and they can't measure the intangibles," said Coach Jones. "On Pro Day, everybody is looking at your athleticism - the way you run a 40-yard dash, your short shuttle time, your change of direction - but what you can't measure at Pro Day is heart, and that's what JK has. The big thing that every coach looks for is consistency, and the great thing about JK is that you know what you are going to get each and every day. He has great competitive spirit and coachability - couple that with his physical skills and, I am his biggest advocate to say the least."
Coach Jones says he expects Schaffer to get an opportunity in training camp to make a roster, but the senior linebacker takes it a step further by saying he expects to play in the NFL.
"There's no doubt," JK told me. "I don't know what kind of competitor I would be if there was any doubt."
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