INDIANAPOLIS - There are more than 300 players here at the NFL scouting combine. They are psychoanalyzed, weighed, measured, poked, prodded and put through paces that make them sweat and strain until veins bulge out of their necks.
It's all part of the process leading to the NFL draft in late April.
For many of the players - mostly those who got widespread exposure because they play for colleges known for their football prowess - it is pure drudgery.
Not for Terrance Knighton. The nose tackle from Temple is loving every moment of it, probably because few got an invitation as hard-earned as his.
"I didn't have an invite," Knighton said yesterday. "Then I went to El Paso [in late January], and they put me through one-on-one drills. To be honest, I dominated, and I got an invitation."
Knighton, measured at the combine at 6-foot-3, 321 pounds, is one of a dozen players in attendance from area colleges. Penn State leads the way with eight. Only USC (12) and LSU (10) have more. Rutgers has three. When all the probing by scouts is done, some prospects will rise and others will fall.
But from what you hear, Knighton is on the rise from a projected seventh-rounder. When NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock was asked which nose tackles ranked high on his list, he quickly mentioned Knighton.
"There's a bit of a buzz about him right now," Mayock said the other day.
Knighton's agent, Tony Paige, said the buzz among NFL scouts about his client started during drills at last month's Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Challenge.
"Terrance showed then that combination of size and athleticism they want for a guy at that position," Paige said.
Knighton knows what it's like to fight for every bit of attention he can get. The native of Windsor, Conn., had one scholarship offer when he came out of high school. But while he attended Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., to raise his academic standing, Central Florida pulled it back.
"They took it away because they didn't want me to start there in January," Knighton said. "I had nowhere to go. Then I got a call from Temple."
The last three seasons for the Owls, Knighton averaged 56 tackles, 7 1/2 for losses, and four pass breakups. He recovered six fumbles and blocked four kicks.
"I guess I've come a long way," said Knighton, who will go through drills today with the other defensive linemen.
Five former Temple Owls are in the NFL. Two of them are defensive linemen, and the Eagles' Dan Klecko used to be one. So there's a history there.
Penn State's prospects
One of the players Knighton knocked heads with while at Temple is Penn State center A.Q. Shipley, who had to overcome a different kind of obstacle to get here. The 6-1, 297-pound Shipley went to Penn State as a defensive lineman. Once he got to Happy Valley, Joe Paterno had other plans for him. Shipley was not thrilled.
"Going into my redshirt sophomore year, Coach Paterno called me in and said, 'Look, we need a center. Can you do it?' " said Shipley, who is projected as a fifth-rounder by NFLdraftscout.com. "I said, 'Yeah.' I wasn't happy - let's put it that way. But I've always been a team-first type guy. It shook me up at first [when the coaches moved him]. But it definitely worked out for the best. And I came to the realization I actually like offense better than defense."
The highest rated among the Penn State players at the combine is defensive end Aaron Maybin, projected to go in the middle of the first round. Mayock sees him as a possible rushing end in a 3-4 defense.
The other Nittany Lions at the combine are defensive end Maurice Evans, offensive linemen Gerald Cadogan, wide receivers Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, and cornerback Lydell Sargeant.
Along with Maybin, Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt has a chance to go in the first round if he shows the scouts speed and convinces them that those passes he dropped early in the season were an aberration. Safety Courtney Greene and receiver Tiquan Underwood are also representing Rutgers at the combine.
It will be interesting to see when Shonn Greene's name is called during draft weekend. Mayock believes Greene, the 5-11, 235-pound running back from Sicklerville and Winslow Township High, has questions to answer before the scouts. NFLdraftscout.com has Greene going early in the second round, at 36th overall. Mayock suggested he'll be taken later.
At Iowa, Greene was second in the nation with 1,850 rushing yards and won the Doak Walker Award as the country's top running back. Mayock called Greene a one-year wonder. He played sparingly at Iowa in his first two years and left the school for community college before returning last season. Greene entered the draft with another year of college eligibility left. He'll be 24 in August.
"You're always looking for that big back with good feet. That's what he is," Mayock said. "He had a tremendously productive year. I'm going to say late second, early third round, in that range. He needs to run fairly well [at the combine]. Most importantly, he's a one-year wonder. Where was he before that? He was out of school academically. His weight has fluctuated, so he's going to have to answer some questions in the interview room, which will be more important to him than anything else."
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.