Before Pat Fitzgerald could get comfortable with the idea of offering Eric Joraskie a scholarship, he needed hard visual evidence. He didn’t have the luxury of being at Mount Carmel High School with assistant Bob Heffner, which meant Fitzgerald had to settle for a cellphone-snapped picture message. After scanning the visual proof, and confirming Joraskie’s listed height of 6’4’’ – and not one of those inflated figures you see insecure prospects send into recruiting sites all too often – Fitzgerald green-lighted Heffner’s next move. Joraskie had a scholarship offer from Northwestern on the table.
A careful consideration of East Coast schools, Maryland and Pittsburgh standing as Northwestern’s biggest competition down to the final days of his recruitment, ensued before Joraskie finally committed to the Wildcats at the last possible minute of his unofficial campus visit. Joraskie had already eased Fitzgerald’s doubts about his bodily dimensions and athleticism, and the Mount Carmel, Pa., native couldn’t be happier with his college choice.
“After walking around campus and seeing everything there, I just kind of felt it,” he said. “I could tell this was a place I could see myself being at over the next four years.”
His decision might not have been so easy, or so improbably sudden – Joraskie basically sprung the news on Fitzgerald just as he was shaking hands and getting ready to leave campus, which was shockingly pleasant news for Fitzgerald, and even sent defensive line coach Marty Long running out of the football offices, himself struck by astonished glee – had Penn State not questioned his physical abilities, rebuffed his preference to play defensive end, dismissively broached the possibility of having Joraskie “compete” for a scholarship at offensive line and shelved him to a last-resort recruiting entity in their 2013 class. Nittany Lions coaches saw Joraskie at a prospect combine weeks later, where he registered a 32 inch vertical and ran a 4.66 40-yard dash, among other impressive measurables, and they immediately regretted their initial tepid pursuit of Joraskie.
Pity, that – because Joraskie had long since moved on to another school – the school.
“It wasn’t the best recruiting experience with them,” Joraskie said of Penn State. “I knew when I chose Northwestern that I was picking the right school.”
If anyone else wants to question Joraskie’s physical abilities, his size (6’4’’, 260 pounds) and measurable athletic strengths – how many defensive ends do you know competing for state championships in the shotput, discus and 4x100 meter relay? – offer quick and conveniently definitive answers.
Now Joraskie needs to answer another: what position will he play at the next level?
Defensive tackle has never been Joraskie’s main preference, and his downright freakish size-to-speed athleticism makes him a perfect fit at defensive end, but Long wants Joraskie to learn both positions. He wants to have the comfort of knowing he can use Long’s power and leverage on the inside, and his explosiveness and quick hands on the outside. Long sees a complete defensive lineman with the physical capacity and mental acuity to play both positions, and Joraskie – personal desires to spend most, if not all, of his college career rushing off the edge aside – is eager to contribute wherever he can.
“All we really discussed was coming and learning all four positions,” he said. “Depending on what I do when I get there, I don’t know what will happen, what position I will play.”
His best bet, if achieving his most statistically tangible first-year goal of recording a sack is important as he makes it sound, is to play defensive end. Any first-year playing time would go over well with Joraskie, whether at tackle, end or an equal mix of the two.
A tenuous rotation of proven tackles – Will Hampton, Chance Carter and Sean McEvily are the only DTs with game experience – could be the personnel avenue he needs to break into first-team duties right off the bat. Climbing the defensive end depth chart could offer more internal challenges.
“I really just want to get on the field,” he said. “Getting a varsity letter in my first year would be pretty cool.”
Getting on the field might be easier than Joraskie’s ambitious first-year academic benchmark. In discussing his off-field goals for his first season on campus, Joraskie made a brief mention of the bare minimum GPA-floor he expects to maintain throughout his first year, 3.8, then calmly moved on to his next thought.
Like, who do you think you are, bro? Patrick Ward or something?
Actually, there wasn’t an ounce of outsized delusion in his words: Joraskie is dead serious. He extinguished any and all doubts about his physical strengths during his recruitment, spoke confidently about bypassing the typically presumed (particularly for a physically intensive every-down position like defensive line) redshirt season and hopes to end his first year at the most prestigious academic university in the Big Ten with his name stamped on the Dean’s List.
“I’m just ready to get started,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”
First-year playing time and virtual academic perfection are big goals. They’re also nothing Joraskie hasn’t dealt with before: he knows what it’s like to have people question his abilities, and he’s more than happy to go out and prove you wrong.
*A few days after this article was published, defensive line coach Marty Long clarified Joraskie's position, informing him "I'll be on the end, not at D-Tackle."