Before pursuing his next dream, Simon Stepaniak had to endure a nightmare.
The Indiana offensive lineman who graduated from Ross High School suffered a torn knee ligament during a Hoosiers’ bowl practice in December.
That not only prevented him from playing in his last college football game but also put his status for the NFL Draft in doubt.
“Definitely took me down for a day or two just mentally, but I knew I could come back from it,” he said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It was the cleanest ACL tear. No other damage, no cartilage damage, no bone bruise. We were unsure at first, trying to wait to see if it tightened up itself, but it didn’t so we went along and had the surgery.”
Bench press may be the only workout he can do, but the combine still offers an opportunity to meet as many teams as he can.
“This has been a dream forever to be a professional athlete,” he said. “It’s really weird to finally visualize it and see that I’m here and I’m in these interviews and going through these workouts and stuff.
“It’s a humbling experience and I’m just taking it all in and day by day.”
He estimated he had already met with about half the teams in the league, at least informally.
In those interviews, he wants teams to know he can play both guard and center. On top of that, he wants to be known as reliable.
“Just know I’m a guy it’s gonna not be a liability,” he said. “I’m gonna get after it for ‘em. I’m gonna do everything that’s gonna help the team out and not make things about me. Just show them I know ball and I can be a good piece of the puzzle for their team.”
A Bengals fan, he said he grew up idolizing Anthony Munoz.
He got to meet the Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive tackle on the awards circuit and was impressed.
“We got to meet him, shake his hand and talk to him a little bit,” Stepaniak said. “Great dude. Huge dude. Just the way he helps out the community is just amazing and I’d like to emulate that some day.”
Stepaniak was a three-star prospect in the class of 2015. He was the No. 47 prospect in the state of Ohio according to 247Sports Composite rankings and committed to Indiana in May of his junior year of high school.
After redshirting his first year on campus, Stepaniak started two games in 2016, six in ’17 and 12 in ’18. He started all 11 games he was healthy last year and was named third-team All-Big Ten by the media.
In Indianapolis, he measured in at 6-foot-4 and 1/8 inch and weighed 313 pounds.
He expects to be full-go physically by mid-July and is able to do some activities now, including take pass sets, and anticipates being able to run in a few weeks.
If he makes an NFL roster, he will be the second Ross Ram to play at the highest level of football, joining Jay Bachman, an offensive lineman who was drafted by the Packers and played 45 games for the Broncos from 1968-71.
When that was brought up to him, Stepaniak’s eyes got big and he said he had a hard time processing the magnitude of such an accomplishment, but he credited coaches Brian Butts and Roger Osborne with helping develop him in high school.
“Those guys helped me more than anything, just getting me mentally right,” he said. “Coach Osborne had a lot of experience in college and the NFL level and getting guys to those points. I mean just the advice they gave me, making sure I was accountable in the weight room and everything — just really getting me ‘adulting’ I guess I should say before most guys start to learn that.”
At Indiana, he earned a degree in media arts and advertising, something he believes could set him up for multiple potential career paths off the field.
“I love the sales aspect,” he said. “I feel like I could be good at doing that (because I’m) a people person. I can also go the broadcasting route or something like that if I want to the future. So it’s exciting what I can do with that degree.”
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