Of the 12 players who started at least three games for Ohio State last year who are now prospects for the 2018 NFL draft, 11 of them were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
The only one who wasn’t was Tracy Sprinkle.
So there’s no question that Sprinkle will have a chip on his shoulder when he works out alongside those combine invitees, as well as other Buckeye draft hopefuls who weren’t regular starters, at Ohio State’s pro day on Thursday.
"I’ve always been like that my whole life," Sprinkle told Eleven Warriors. "I’ve always been against the odds. I’ve always been not the biggest guy, not the strongest guy, not this, not that. Three-star coming out of high school, not good enough to do that. I always heard that throughout my whole career."
Beyond demonstrating his talent to NFL scouts, though, Sprinkle says his motivation is not to prove those who have doubted him wrong, but to prove those who have him believed in right.
"You’re always talking about people that’s against you but it’s also the people that’s with you, and that’s something that I fight really hard for, to be able to prove those people right," Sprinkle said. "It’s the people that supported me, and I know the hard work that I got to put in. It’s what I’ve been used to my whole career, so it’s nothing new."
As a fifth-year senior and team captain, Sprinkle was Ohio State’s first-team nose tackle for the entire 2017 season. He didn’t record big numbers – only 16 total tackles with three tackles for loss – but that wasn’t his job, as his primary responsibility as a nose tackle was to take on double teams and free up his teammates to make plays.
At Thursday’s pro day, however, Sprinkle – who was actually recruited to Ohio State as a defensive end – wants to prove he can be more than just a space-eater.
"I just want to show everybody how versatile I am," Sprinkle said. "I just want to show everybody that the best football is still ahead of me."
While moving to nose tackle gave Sprinkle the opportunity to be a starter last season – the starting spot at that position opened up when fellow 2018 draft hopeful Michael Hill was suspended for the Buckeyes’ first six games – Sprinkle believes he is actually best suited to play the 3-technique defensive tackle position, where Dre’Mont Jones started for the Buckeyes for the last two seasons (and will again in 2018).
Sprinkle didn’t have the opportunity to put it on full display last season, because of the role he was assigned to play, but he believes his get-off and quickness are actually the strengths of his game, which could enable him to thrive as a 3-technique in the NFL.
"I know I have the speed and quickness, but it’s just time to showcase it," Sprinkle said. "At nose guard, 1-technique, you can’t really show your speed and stuff in there taking double-teams and trying to create disruption in the backfield, but now for me to be able to show my athleticism and show how versatile I can be doing these drills at pro day, I think that can really help me out."
“I just want to show everybody that the best football is still ahead of me.”– Tracy Sprinkle
Sprinkle, who was listed at 6-foot-3 and 293 pounds by Ohio State, said his weight hasn’t changed much in the months leading up to pro day, but his diet has, as he has focused on eating healthier and replacing body fat with lean muscle.
Sprinkle’s training for pro day, meanwhile, has been more focused on running fast and performing well in pro day drills than on actually playing football, and he says he has felt the differences of that training by the effects it has had on different muscles.
"Your body just has to get used to it," said Sprinkle, who has been training with Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami. "You might start getting sore in areas you’ve never been sore before because you haven’t really worked that muscle that much. Like a track star kind of. So really strengthening those small muscles and things like that. That was like the biggest adjustment for me."
As a competitor, Sprinkle wanted to be at the combine and have the opportunity to showcase his talents on that stage. He says the people around him, though, didn’t allow him to let that disappointment get him down.
"I spoke with some people close to me, and they reminded me that everybody has their own path," Sprinkle said. "Everybody’s not going to be a first-round draft pick. Everybody’s not going to be on that stage. But you can still make it. And that’s something I have to tell myself. Build the confidence back in myself that I knew that I can still make it in different ways. And just praying about it, talk with God about it, and now I’m back cool."
Sprinkle’s often-tumultuous career at Ohio State – which included being arrested and temporarily dismissed from the team in 2014, and suffering a nearly career-ending knee injury in 2016 – has been well-documented. Yet Sprinkle overcame all of that to finish his career as a starter and a leader for the Buckeyes’ defense.
Now, Sprinkle faces a different kind of adversity – trying to prove he deserves to be selected in the late rounds of the draft, after being snubbed of the opportunity to prove it on one of the biggest stages, likely facing a battle just to make an NFL roster either way. But Sprinkle is confident that he can make it at the next level, and Thursday will be his opportunity to show teams why.
"My confidence is through the roof," Sprinkle said. "I know I can kill Pro Day, and do whatever it takes to make it."