Penn State was once known as an NFL fullback factory. Former Nittany Lions Matt Suhey, Steve Smith, Tim Manoa, Sam Gash, Brian O'Neal, Jon Witman and Brian Milne all had nice runs in the league. So did Richie Anderson, a star tailback at PSU who shifted to fullback once he reached the NFL.
Over the past decade or so, though, the fullback had all but disappeared as a viable weapon in the Nittany Lion offense. The position became less of a priority in the NFL, too. So now the only former Penn Stater playing fullback in the league is Michael Robinson, a standout quarterback for the Lions who has done a little of everything during his time with San Francisco and more recently Seattle.
Michael Zordich hopes to change that. After being used first as a linebacker, and then almost exclusively as a blocker and short-yardage specialist earlier in his Penn State tenure -- he entered his senior season with 83 career rushing yards -- he became a do-it-all back in his first and only season under new coach Bill O'Brien.
Zordich was second on the team in rushing (301 yards and four scores) and eighth in receiving (15 catches for 152 yards). He lined up at fullback, tailback, tight end, slot back and even wide receiver. He ran, caught and blocked. He pitched in with four tackles as a special teams cover man, too.
His odds of being the first PSU fullback selected since Sean McHugh went in the seventh and final round of the 2004 NFL Draft appear to be long, in part because pro teams simply don't draft many players at the position. Last year, only two fullbacks were drafted (USC's Erich Rhett and Wisconsin's Bradie Ewing). Of the 38 running backs invited to the 2013 NFL Combine, only four were fullbacks.
And that list did not include Zordich. That made his performance at Penn State's NFL Pro Day Monday that much more important to the player teammates call Z.
For guys who didn't go to the Combine, this is everything, Zordich said. This is the first time scouts get to see your numbers, get to see everything. It's pressure, but at the same time, you've been working, you've been doing it. You've been there before, you've done it before. It's just fun to get out there and do it live.
Zordich measured in at 6-foot-1, 241 pounds. He bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.84 seconds, broad-jumped 9 feet and had a vertical of 30.5 inches. All are solid numbers for a fullback.
It went well, man, Zordich said afterward. Put in a lot of work. Got to get in front of the scouts and run some times. It felt good to get out there, get it done with. I feel good about everything.
As important as Pro Day was, Zordich also realizes his body of work from the 2012 season was vital, too. O'Brien and company put him in position to prove his flexibility and he capitalized on the opportunity.
It was huge for me, Zordich said. I've got to thank Coach O'Brien and the whole staff for that. They gave me a shot to run the ball, catch the ball, get out and do everything. That's always good to show teams that I am versatile. Also, my play on special teams is something I love to do. That's another key point for teams.
Zordich has a good feel for what NFL teams are looking for in a prospect because his father -- also named Michael -- enjoyed a 12-year career as a safety in the league. More recently, the elder Zordich served as an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2010-12.
Though he won All-America honors as a PSU safety in 1985, the elder Zordich was considered a fringe NFL prospect. Indeed, he was not picked until the ninth round (the Draft was longer then), when he went to the San Diego Chargers.
The father's advice for his son?
Just get out there and be yourself, the younger Zordich said. At the end of the day, it's a job interview, yeah. But it's also football, you've been playing it your whole life. You don't want to think too much. Just go out there, have fun, run and catch. Just pretend like you're a little kid out there, doing it all over again.
Zordich spent time in New Orleans preparing for Pro Day. There, he worked out with teammate and friend Michael Mauti. From now until the April 25 NFL Draft, though, he'll be back at Penn State, working out with a host of classmates under strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald.
I'm gonna continue working out, Zordich said. Get in there, running drills, catching the ball. Lifting weights and running. And waiting for some phone calls -- hopefully get them and show teams what I've got.