CINCINNATI — When Jeff Luc was a senior in high school he had his pick of college football programs to choose from, all of whom would’ve welcomed him to campus. Luc was a consensus five-star recruit and considered among the top linebackers, if not the top linebacker, coming out of high school.
Luc just finished up his senior season playing at the University of Cincinnati. He was with the Bearcats for three seasons, sitting out one year after transferring from Florida State, and is now preparing for the NFL Draft. It is two weeks away (April 30-May 2). NFL scouting departments are more thorough at dissecting players, their strengths and weaknesses on and off the field, than a biology research lab.
The scrutiny is high in regards to Luc. The multiple scouting reports available on the Internet all have a common theme in regards to him, that he’s a little too limited in terms of his height (a shade taller than 6-feet) or speed (4.6 in the 40-yard dash) to be an every-down player. Scouts have asked Luc a couple of times about his ability to play fullback. He hasn’t hesitated with his answer.
"Wherever they put me," said Luc Wednesday after finishing up a workout with the Bengals along with 24 other NFL hopefuls with local ties. "The guy asked me at pro day, he said ‘Do you mind playing fullback?’ I said ‘Are you going to pay me?’ I said ‘All right, let’s go.’ I’m excited whatever position I play."
Every NFL team gets a day prior to each draft to host local player workouts, visits that don’t count against the team’s limit of 30 for other prospective players. The majority of these players weren’t invited to the scouting combine and probably won’t be drafted but would be candidates to be signed as free agents. Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks (Lakota West High School), Louisville running back Dominique Brown (Winton Woods) and Toledo offensive lineman Greg Mancz (Anderson) were the only ones from this group who were at the combine. Luc was one of 13 UC players working out for the Bengals.
He played in the Senior Bowl, a premier postseason all-star game, and showed well in that week’s practices but this process of showing the NFL what you’ve got is completely different for Luc than the high school recruitment he experienced.
"I’d say right now the biggest difference is coming out of high school I was up here," said Luc, holding his right hand a forearm’s length above his head. "For me to transfer and come to Cincinnati and sit out I kind of dropped below the radar. Now it’s just me climbing the board. Out of high school I was already up there and everything was going well. I’ve gotten the best of both worlds. I don’t mind coming from behind. I don’t mind playing behind the eight ball. That’s what pushes you. That’s what motivates you."
Luc led UC with 134 tackles playing middle linebacker for the first time in his career. He was credited with 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
"It’s not really proving anything. It’s just playing my game," said Luc about the scouting reports about him. "That’s their job, to go out there and see what you do wrong. Of course they’re going to find everything they can find. I can’t knock them off for that. That’s what they do best. You never know, they’ve got the eye for it, so you can’t argue with a guy that’s been doing the profession for a while. The only thing you can do is get better at what they say. And thank them later on."
The process leading to the NFL Draft is one long job interview. Some players bring better resumes to the table than others but every player who reaches the league has a different story.
Defensive end Terrell Hartsfield was a teammate of Luc at UC. He was unheralded at the start of last season but ended up leading the Bearcats with 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks. It got him an invitation to play in the Medal of Honor Bowl, another postseason all-star game.
Hartsfield suffered a hamstring pull during UC’s pro day on March 11 and is still recovering from that. He attempted to run the 40-yard dash on Wednesday but was unable to go full speed. As the draft approaches, it’s a bit of a concern for the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end but a concern he’s trying not to focus on.
"I’ve got to work 10 times harder," said Hartsfield. "It’s definitely nerve-wreaking because my speed is one of my best qualities. I can’t showcase my speed the way I want to. I don’t want to feel like this is a setback because eventually I’ll be able to show my speed. I wish I could show it right now."
That’s something every player with a shot at the NFL wants to do. Show it right now.