Witzmann knows NFL is an option
Bryan Witzmann has heard it from fans and from pro football agents.
The mammoth South Dakota State offensive tackle from Somerset isn't looking ahead. He acknowledges that an NFL career is a distinct possibility, but he's not going to spend any time thinking about it now. Witzmann has far too much on his plate to dwell on something that is still just a possibility.
Witzmann is studying civil engineering at SDSU and he plans to graduate in December. His summer schedule has been grinding. He is taking one engineering class, he's working a 40-hour-a-week internship and he spends a couple hours each day in football training. He's constantly in motion from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. each day.
Early in July, Witzmann was one of two Jackrabbits named to the Sports Network FCS Preseason All-America Team. The other was halfback Zac Zenner, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season behind Witzmann's stalwart blocking.
Witzmann has started at left tackle in each of the Jackrabbits' 35 games over the past three seasons, earning first-team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors in 2012 after an honorable mention selection in 2011.
South Dakota State finished the 2012 season with a 9-4 overall record, including a runner-up mark of 6-2 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Jackrabbits' nine wins were their most in a season at the Division I level as they made their second playoff appearance in four seasons.
With the track record Witzmann has built, pro scouts have been following his progress closely. Witzmann is 6 feet, 7 inches tall. He usually plays at around 300 pounds. He said he's trying to add a few extra pounds over the summer, because he tends to drop a few pounds through the course of a season.
Several agents have spoken with Witzmann, hoping to represent him in his pursuit of a pro career. College players are allowed to speak with agents, but can't sign with an agent until after their college career is completed.
"I definitely have it on my radar," Witzmann said of a career in the NFL. "I want to concentrate on the season. Barring injury, I'm planning on trying everything."
Witzmann has several resources for guidance on the process of entering the NFL. Several former teammates, including a receiver with the Carolina Panthers, have gone through the steps of trying to build a pro career. So has his girlfriend's father, who played one year of pro football.
Another person helping him work toward a possible pro career is his offensive line coach, John Flynn. Before coaching at SDSU, Flynn coached at the University of Oklahoma where he coached several players who reached the NFL.
Flynn said Witzmann is on the right course to reach the NFL, predicting that Witzmann could be taken in the top four rounds of next year's NFL Draft.
"He's easily one of the best linemen I've ever coached," Flynn said. "He's not concerned with individual accolades. He understands how to work hard, what needs to be done to win a national championship."
Witzmann isn't taking anything for granted in pursuing a pro career. He said if he can't make the NFL, he probably wouldn't try arena football or other leagues. Instead, he'd rather get started in his engineering career.
"Some people glorify going to the NFL. It's a business and you're a piece of meat. I know I have a shot, but I have to work my butt off to make that even a possibility," he said.
Witzmann said he is hoping to earn an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, which would give him more exposure to the NFL teams.
Flynn said Witzmann's work ethic is one of the aspects that separates him from most players. He said Witzmann's upbringing has given him a strong base and the coaches trust that he will always be prepared.
"When he speaks, people listen," Flynn said. "He sets the tone in our (locker) room. He leads by example."
In addition to the hours of practice each week during the season, Witzmann spends an hour or more each night during game weeks watching footage of the player he'll be facing in the upcoming game.
"You get it down to a science," Witzmann said. "That helps, but you still have to go out and play the game."
Flynn said the big test for Witzmann will be blocking the speed rushing defensive ends and outside linebackers in the NFL who had times of 4.6 or 4.7 in the 40-yard dash.
"In my opinion, he's got that athleticism," Flynn said. "I don't think NFL teams can pass on him, once they learn his character."
The priority now for Witzmann is the upcoming season and the Jackrabbits' pursuit of a Missouri Valley Conference title. He is part of a tightly knit SDSU group of seniors. Four of the offensive linemen will be seniors, making this one of the team's most reliable areas.
"We can be as good as anyone," Witzmann said of his season aspirations. "Losing to (North Dakota State) twice last year really eats at you. We have them at home this year."