INDIANAPOLIS — When Treyvon Hester came out of Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh, there wasn’t a constellation of stars next to his name.
Five years and 161 tackles later, the University of Toledo defensive tackle has proven NFL draft prospects don’t need five stars and playing experience at a college football powerhouse.
“What is a big school? I don’t believe in that stuff,” said Hester, who’s participating in the NFL Scouting Combine. “We all train the same, we all sweat the same, we all put on the same pair of pants. The only way you can get better is to work hard. That’s how you progress and get better. Toledo has definitely prepared me for the NFL. It’s competition every day. You have to bring it every single play. Competition is something you have to live by.”
Hester, a three-time All-MAC honoree, tallied 31.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks during his career. He had surgery on his shoulder Dec. 8, which kept him out of the East-West Shrine Game.
He relocated to Pensacola, Fla., in January to prepare for draft workouts.
“It’s been a grind because I had a different path than everybody else,” Hester said. “It’s been an uphill battle [since I had surgery]. I was in Toledo until the end of January getting into the main focus of my rehab. Then I went to Florida to chase the dream.”
His health is only a concern in that he isn’t doing drills at the combine. There’s an understanding around the league a full recovery is certain and Hester will participate in workouts before the April 27-29 NFL draft.
“I feel good, I feel real good,” Hester said. “I don’t want to put a percentage on it, but my spirits are up. It’s great to be back at it and be able to run around a little bit. When you get something taken away from you, you really understand how much of a privilege it is.”
The injury has not caused a crash in his stock, according to many prognosticators. The 6-foot-3 Hester lost 20 pounds — down to 300 pounds — before his senior season, allowing him to close gaps at a faster rate. Toledo strength and conditioning coach Brad Bichey thought Hester played noticeably faster while also having improved endurance.
Hester thinks his versatility and willingness to play multiple positions on the defensive line will bode well for his future.
“I’ve said all along I like him a lot as a player,” longtime draft analyst Tony Pauline said. “He’s been a consistent player at Toledo. He reminds me of Ahtyba Rubin [of the Seattle Seahawks] — a guy who’s going to occupy gaps, occupy blockers, take up a lot of room. He’s strong as hell. He’s not going to have a lot of sacks, he’s not going to have a lot of tackles for loss. He’ll probably be a nose tackle in a 3-4 or a middle guard in a 4-3. He’s a guy that will go the last day of the draft and have a productive eight or nine-year career.”
Watching from the sidelines here hasn’t been all bad for Hester, who has cheered on former UT teammates Kareem Hunt and Michael Roberts. All three players are projected to be drafted — and left tackle Storm Norton could make it a record-tying four picks for the Rockets.
It’s been almost a half century since Toledo had three players drafted — 1970. You have to rewind two more years for UT’s record-setting 1968 draft, when it had four players taken. But both numbers come with an asterisk, because the draft was 17 rounds — 10 rounds longer than the current iteration.
Hester said it would be a humbling experience to break the Rockets’ draft streak or help set a record. The process began here with positive appraisals.
“They’re going to find out that I’m a great guy,” Hester said. “I have a big heart, come from a great background. I left it all out there on the field. Once they sit down with me, they'll understand what kind of guy I am.”
EXTRA POINTS: John Ross, a receiver who attended Washington, set a combine record in the 40-yard dash, running a blazing 4.22 seconds in the signature drill. It broke Chris Johnson’s nine-year record of 4.24. Adidas was offering an island to anyone who broke the record wearing its new cleats, but Ross was wearing Nike shoes. But don’t feel sorry for him; according to ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell, Nike signed Ross minutes after his run. ... Former Ohio State H-back Curtis Samuel wasn’t far behind Ross — he ran a 4.31. Samuel, who is working out as a wide receiver, also did 18 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, significantly cranking up his value. … The opposite occurred for former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. He was sent home after reportedly having a heated altercation with a hospital worker. Foster is a possible top-10 pick.
Treyvon Hester (91) wasn’t a big-time recruit when he came to the University of Toledo, but his hard work has made him one of four Rockets who could be taken in the NFL draft. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
Hester DANIEL MILLER