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SRU’s Stazer taking shot at reaching next level

Not Done Yet
As a three-year Slippery Rock University starter, Butler graduate Nick Stazer (55) — shown here blocking against West Chester last season — put together a body of work that could impress professional scouts. Stazer is attempting to make the NFL as an interior offensive lineman. Submitted Photo

Nick Stazer could have never allowed his quarterback to get touched, let alone sacked.

The Butler graduate and three-year Slippery Rock University starter could’ve also paved right over every defensive player in his way.

Even so, teams at the next level might still hesitate.

“No matter how good you play in Division II, you’re going to be doubted,” Stazer said. “It doesn’t matter if you were perfect.”

But now it does.

Any flaws, characterized in fractions of seconds or failed repetitions, will be magnified going forward. Stazer stares down a small series of speed, strength, and agility tests, the results of which will partially define him in the months to come.

“You’re doing all this preparation basically for a track meet,” he said. “You’re not really training to actually play football. That’s the tough part of this process.”

It was a process that Stazer hadn’t even decided whether he’d want to partake in a few months earlier. The NFL Draft being a near-exclusive crop of Division I prospects was a reason why.

Of the 259 players drafted last year, Wingate punter Ethan Evans and Northern Michigan offensive tackle Jake Witt were the only Division II players to hear their names called. Both were seventh-round selections.

“It’s D-I, D-I, D-I,” SRU offensive line coach Chris Conrad said. “The big-name schools, the SEC — your big-time draft picks are Division I. ... If you dominate the level of competition, they will find you. Is it tough to get drafted? Without a doubt. But, the biggest thing you’ve got to do is get into a camp and prove your worth.”

Stazer, whose fall-back plan is to teach, earned some merit and boosted his confidence at a post-season scouting event last month.

“When the season ended, I wasn’t really sure if I was going to try to keep playing or not,” he said. “Then, I got invited to a bowl game in Texas. ... I played well against a lot of Division I guys. There were some pretty high-level guys there. So, I decided I would give it a shot.”

The choice also came by way of some encouragement from Conrad.

“The conversation I had with him was, ‘Why not?’” the coach recalled. “If you have an opportunity to possibly make it, why not try? ... He realized he caught a few eyes with the scouts and talked to a bunch of people. The possibilities are there. If you’ve got a chance to do it, do it now instead of jumping into the (teaching) field.

“You’ve got plenty of time to work.”

The aforementioned practice and scrimmage, the College Gridiron Showcase, was held in early January in Fort Worth, Texas. Stazer described it as being the “third- or fourth-tier after the Senior Bowl and the Shrine Bowl.”

As a prospect from a lesser-known locale, Stazer was initially tense.

“The first day, the nerves were there,” Stazer said. “Being a D-2 guy, you see all these helmets that you see in bowl games, whether it’s TCU or Arkansas or Colorado — just big-name schools.”

Playing time was brief for Stazer and most others in the scrimmage the day after. Fortunately, the truncated sample size wasn’t his only chance to demonstrate his abilities.

“We only got two drives each,” Stazer said. “I think I had, like, 18 plays, so not a ton. But, that first day was just basically two straight hours of one-on-ones. You got to go against basically every other defensive lineman that was there.

“I got a ton of reps of one-on-ones, both pass and run.”

Stazer played guard for the Rock, but he’s aiming to fit in as a center as a professional, as well. His stature measures up well at that spot.

“Even more so at center, I’m above the average height and weight, so that really isn’t a problem,” Stazer said. “My plan right now is just (as an) interior offensive lineman. I know I’m not 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds, so I can’t play tackle. But, having that flexibility is one thing that’s super important.”

Stazer has been training at Landow Performance in Centennial, Colo., where San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey and Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler have previously passed through.

“We do the running portion in the morning, which is all getting your 40-yard dash start the best it can be, stuff like that,” Stazer explained. “Then, in the afternoon we come back and have a lifting session, which, once again, is all geared towards what you need to do at your Pro Day.”

Slippery Rock University doesn’t hold a Pro Day, so Stazer is trying to find a school that will allow him to join in on theirs. Pittsburgh, Akron, Penn State, and Buffalo could be realistic options.

Wherever Stazer can test, he’ll have two chances to post his best time in the 40-yard dash and one in the bench press and the shuttle. He can’t afford any mistakes.

“If you slip or you take a misstep, it could add a bunch of time,” Stazer said. “If someone’s not there and they don’t see you slip ... they just see your time. They see, ‘Oh, that’s a bad time.’ But, they don’t know that you slipped.”

Stazer would also consider playing in the newly-formed United Football League or the long-standing Canadian Football League.

“The UFL and the CFL salaries, they’re not huge — nothing like the NFL,” he said. “But, it’s definitely money you can live on and have a pretty solid life. That also could lead into other opportunities, so it’s something I’d definitely be interested in.”

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