Jack Conklin and his father left no stone unturned and no angle not explored in hopes of getting a Division I scholarship offer during his final year at Plainwell (Mich.) High School.
Conklin was an avid water skier. So was then-Illinois coach Ron Zook. So, in addition to the usual highlight tape, Conklin sent along a video of him slalom skiing.
Surely, that would catch Zook’s attention.
Conklin finally caught the attention of Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. Conklin walked on at Michigan State, redshirted in 2012 and started 38 times the next three seasons at left tackle. He earned All-American accolades as a junior in 2015 and looks like a potential first-round pick.
On Wednesday, Conklin said he was scheduled to have a formal interview at the Scouting Combine with the Green Bay Packers, who potentially have a long-term need with left tackle David Bakhtiari entering his final season under contract and right tackle Bryan Bulaga missing four more games because of injury. In that room for that interview would be Zook, now the Packers’ special-teams coordinator.
“That’s definitely something to bring up,” Conklin said with a laugh following his media session. “It’s funny, that was why he threw it in our recruiting tape because we had heard he was a water skier. I think it’d be something funny to bring up to relax everybody in the room.”
Conklin wasn’t holding it against Zook. Coaches gets an uncountable number of highlight videos from hopeful high-schoolers. Conklin figures the tape might not have reached Zook’s desk.
It’s a fun anecdote but it’s also a telling story.
“We were going to do everything to try to get a chance,” Conklin said. “Michigan State gave it to me.”
Nothing really was given to Conklin, though. Zook wasn’t the only coach who wasn’t paying attention. Perhaps it was because Conklin went to a smaller high school. Perhaps it’s because he didn’t go to any big camps as a junior, when recruiters are trying to nail down commitments. Whatever the reason, Conklin was getting exactly zero recruiting attention.
Conklin, however, wouldn’t take no for answer.
“Myself, I knew I was good enough,” he said. “I’d be on those recruiting Web sites and I didn’t see a difference between my tape and those guys’ tape. My dad, he was my head coach in high school. He said, ‘You’re just as good as these guys. Just keep working. You’re going to get that chance.’”
When that chance wasn’t coming, Conklin considered entering a prep school, which would give him another season of exposure for the major-college programs. Finally, Dantonio took notice. He invited him to join the team as a redshirt.
Four years later, the 6-foot-6, 308-pound Conklin is a potential first-round draft pick. After three seasons of superb play for one of the nation’s top programs, Conklin’s performance at the Scouting Combine produced no red flags. His 5.00-second clocking in the 40-yard dash was the fourth-fastest. He ran his first 10 yards in 1.75 seconds, tied for the sixth-fastest. His 25 reps on the 225-pound bench press weren’t among the leaders, but with 35-inch arms, he had more work to do than most of the other linemen.
Considering how badly the Packers struggled without Bakhtiari last season, Conklin at the least would provide a viable backup plan as a rookie.
“It’s crazy to see how far I’ve come,” Conklin said. “It’s hard to think about it: Four years ago and having no idea if I was even going to be on a Division I team going into the fall to now and having that chance to be a first-round draft pick. It’s hard to take in, to see how far I’ve come as a person and as a player. It all comes back to all the people around me and how supportive they were.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.