Former Bradwell Tiger offensive lineman Ulrick John always has wanted the opportunity to play professional football. And in the past couple of months, he has been working hard to make that dream a reality.
At 6-foot, 7-inches and an athletic 290-pound frame, John is the prototypical size of the modern-day Division I and NFL left tackle, a high-profile position. Through the book and movie “Blind Side,” even the most casual sports fan understands the importance of the left tackle to protect a team’s quarterback.
John, a 2009 BI graduate, was in the second class recruited and signed by the Georgia State Panthers in the program’s inaugural season. The original Panthers team was coached by football legend Bill Curry. It was Curry who first put out the idea of the possibly of playing at the next level.
“Ulrick is simply amazing. He will be a great success at everything he does. He is smart, tough, and resilient. He can play every (offensive line) position and can dominate college opponents, meaning he can compete in the NFL. He will play football as long as he wishes to play,” Curry said.
Curry stepped down as the Panthers coach before the 2012 season, forcing the Panthers to find a new coach. Trent Myers took the job and John got a new position coach in Harold Ethridge.
“Coach Curry started to tell me, during the end of my sophomore season, that I had the size and footwork to be able to play in the NFL,” John said. “He told me that scouts had started to notice my size and quickness. I was wanted to have an opportunity to have a chance, and that was a huge boost of confidence for me.”
Etheridge, who had been in the Pac-12 and in everywhere between, was impressed with Ulrick’s season from the very beginning.
“When I got to Georgia State, a lot of the players hadn’t been taught a lot of the individual skill and, especially, footwork that you need to be able to play in Division I,” Etheridge said. “Ulrick worked very hard and he had size and athleticism. You know you can’t coach size.”
John admitted that a lot of things changed when the current staff took over at Georgia State.
“We did a lot pass blocking, but not that much run blocking. Coach Etheridge taught me how to down block and also being able to use my free arm to at least make contact another defender,” John said.
Entering his junior season, John’s hard work and persistence paid off as he became the starting left tackle, a position he held through the 2013 season. It was at the school’s junior-day, which allowed him to perform individually in front of pro scouts, he ran an excellent 5.1-second 40-yard dash. However, he also suffered a torn labrum and came back strong, but was really only effective with one arm.
“I think he would even be a bigger prospect if he would have had a full year to recover from the labrum surgery,” Etheridge said. “That, and the fact he really didn’t get a redshirt year, honestly, I wish he had because I would love to have him on the line another year.”
John has spent time recently in Florida to train for the various scouting combines he planned to attend during the winter and spring.
“I have been training with Mike Gough for the last 2 1/2 months, working on drills with foot speed and quickness. I will attend regional combines and as many tryout camps as I can,” John said.
Last week was Georgia State University’s Pro Day. John posted a 5.0 time in the 40 dash and also showed strong versatility in the different drills that showcase potential NFL lineman. The Seattle Seahawks have shown interest in John and are looking at bringing him to Seattle for a closer look.
“This really is a business. The interviews are about who you are, can you learn the system, those kind of things. Not really a lot of football x’s-and-o’s type questions,” John said.
Sources close to John seem to think he is potentially a fifth-round pick in the draft, set for May 8-10. If he isn’t drafted, he could be signed as a free agent.
“The draft can be a strange thing. I don’t know necessarily if he will be drafted. I hope he will,” Etheridge said. “I believe he certainly has the athleticism and work ethic to be signed by several teams as a free agent. He could be a player that teams could certainly keep around maybe on the practice team, but he could definitely turn that opportunity into a roster spot under the right circumstances.”