Fifteen former Ohio State football players participated in Wednesday’s pro day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. One of them, however, never actually played for the varsity Buckeyes.
While Kellyn Gerenstein aspired to play for the varsity Ohio State football team and made several efforts to join the team as a walk-on, he never received that opportunity. Instead, Gerenstein played for Ohio State’s club football team, which he led to two national championships while winning two NCFA Offensive MVP awards as its starting quarterback.
Gerenstein did receive the opportunity to become a part of the Ohio State football program last year when he was hired by Mark Pantoni to be a recruiting intern for the Buckeyes. On Wednesday, though, Gerenstein finally got the opportunity to take the field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as a football player.
As his final season with the club football team came to an end last fall, Gerenstein wasn’t ready to accept that his career as a football player was over. So Gerenstein, at the recommendation of Ohio State college scouting coordinator Billy Homer, asked Pantoni if he could participate in pro day. Pantoni asked Ohio State director of sports performance Mickey Marotti, who quickly approved Gerenstein’s request to participate in pro day and allowed Gerenstein to train at the Woody with the Buckeyes’ other NFL draft prospects.
Associate director of strength and conditioning AT Turner trained Gerenstein for the pro day for the past two months, helping him shave his 40-yard dash time down from the 4.7-second range to the 4.53-second time he ran Wednesday.
Following Wednesday’s pro day, Gerenstein was full of gratitude to all of them for allowing him to be a part of the event.
“If you would have told me five years ago today that I'd be doing this, I wouldn't have believed you. I have so many people to thank for being here. Pantoni and coach Mick and coach AT who trained me, he didn't earn a dollar for training me the last two months. And every day he bought the same intensity, and he coached me, and I can't thank him enough,” Gerenstein told Eleven Warriors. “None of those guys had to do that for me, but they did.”
While Gerenstein played quarterback for the club football team, he worked out as a defensive back on Wednesday, when he went through DB drills alongside Ohio State draft prospects Cam Brown, Tanner McCalister and Palaie Gaoteote. Except for six snaps in a club football game against Wright State in 2021, Gerenstein hadn’t played defensive back since he was in fifth or sixth grade, but he chose to work out at that position because he believed it would allow him to put his athleticism on display.
“All I could have done was show I'm an athlete, and I think that's what I did,” Gerenstein said. “I would have had to work with C.J. (Stroud) as far as being a receiver, and I don't know if I would have had that time, because I wasn't gonna mess his script’s timing up. So DB, those guys have to be the best athletes in the field, because they gotta cover guys like Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba and everyone else who’s in that receiver room.”
Realistically, Gerenstein understood that the 130 NFL representatives at Ohio State’s pro day weren’t there to watch him. At 5-foot-9 with his only college football experience coming at the club level, Gerenstein faces long odds of making an NFL roster. But he wanted to take his best shot at showing NFL scouts what he could do, and Ohio State’s pro day was one of the best opportunities he could have gotten to do so.
“I love ball and I just wanted to do whatever I could to continue playing,” Gerenstein said. “Maybe I get a minicamp invite, maybe I go to Canada, like, who knows what happens. But I can't say I didn't give it my all.
“All I can do is talk to as many people as I can, shake as many hands as I can. It's awesome, though, because I wouldn't have this anywhere but Ohio State. I got into three schools out of high school: Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State. I wouldn't have this at either of those schools. Not to diss them, because there’s NFL scouts that go to those schools and at those pro days and there’s NFL players that come out of them. But this is the Ohio State. These are the Buckeyes. And it's just, it's different than everywhere else in the country. So it’s awesome.”
A year or two ago, Gerenstein would have thought he would be more likely to be attending pro day as a scout or as a media member than as an actual participant. Gerenstein has long had a passion for evaluating football players in addition to playing the game himself, previously writing for NFL Draft Bible before starting his internship with Ohio State.
If Gerenstein doesn’t get an opportunity to continue playing football, he still expects to have a career in the sport working in player personnel at either the professional or collegiate level – a career path that has become realistic for Gerenstein with the experience he’s gained working alongside Pantoni.
“Nothing could come of this (participating in pro day). I would just say I worked out and the NFL went in different directions, that's fine. But I'll be there eventually, one day,” Gerenstein said. “Unless I stay in the college scouting side, or recruiting. But I know I want to be in personnel when this is all said and done, and I want to be in football. Football is my favorite thing in the world. And yeah, this game is awesome. It fills me with joy to be able to do it every day, in any facet. Whether that's working or training, playing, anything. I really love it.”
As Gerenstein’s dreams of walking on with the Buckeyes went unfulfilled, he said he would sometimes call his mother crying, wondering why he wasn’t getting the chance he so strongly desired. She always reassured him that an opportunity to remain in the sport he loved would come his way, and now, he sees her vision coming to life.
“This killed me all throughout college. I wanted to be on this football team, and it just never happened. And I would call my mom crying some nights, just like, ‘What am I not doing? Like, what more can I do?’ Because I was working as hard as I could to get that spot,” Gerenstein said. “But she always said like, ‘Son, something else is out there for you that you just don't know about right now. Something that you can't see coming.’ And I hate to say it ‘cause she's right. She's always like, I don't see you playing, I see you in the front office. She said that since I was five years old. And obviously being a ballplayer, I'm like, ‘No, I'm playing ball.’ And now she's right. And I hate that. But my mom, she had my back the whole time.”
“If you would have told me five years ago today that I'd be doing this, I wouldn't have believed you.”– Kellyn Gerenstein on participating in pro day
Gerenstein will never be able to say he actually played for the Ohio State football team, and he said participating in pro day didn’t change that. But he’s okay with that now. He’s proud of what he was able to accomplish for Ohio State’s club football team, and he plans to continue representing them proudly no matter what opportunity might come his way next.
“I wouldn't trade the last five years for anything,” Gerenstein said. “I know I said I wanted to walk on, but if anything happens, if I do make a minicamp, if anything happens, I want it to say Ohio State Club Football, I don’t want it to say Ohio State.”
Gerenstein has also loved having the opportunity to work for the Buckeyes as an intern.
“For the first time in my life, I enjoy waking up at 6 a.m. Because I'm excited to come into work,” Gerenstein said. “I don't have like a ton to do, just because my duties as a student, kind of NCAA rules, you gotta watch out and we're obviously very cautious of that. But I love being here. I love being around the guys. I love the coaches. I love the building. And all these guys who are super nice to me and say hello when I see them. I couldn't have imagined, especially after thinking I was going to be here and trying to walk on, this is the path that I took to get to this point. I couldn't have told you this would happen. I couldn't have written it. I don't think anyone could have written it, so it’s been awesome.”
That said, Wednesday is a day Gerenstein will always remember as one that gave him the opportunity to be coached by NFL coaches and to experience life as an Ohio State football player – even if only for just one day.
“I got coached by an NFL coach, I worked right in front of (Pittsburgh Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin. And in front of (Tennessee Titans coach Mike) Vrabel and all these guys,” Gerenstein said. “I mean, I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that I'd have this opportunity. You know, I always maintained the course, I worked as hard as I could, but who would have thought that this would be the outcome.”
While his lack of experience playing defensive back was apparent at times during his workout as he slipped multiple times during drills, Gerenstein was proud of how he performed, particularly with his 40 time and how he caught the ball during drill work. And the day was made extra special by how the other pro day participants embraced him even though he never actually played alongside them.
“Those guys treated me like a teammate. Like they've known me for four years,” Gerenstein said. “They didn't have to do that. But that's just the culture here. That's the demands from Coach Day and Coach Mick is that everyone in the building is a part of the brotherhood. And that's what it felt like today. So maybe I did feel like a walk-on today.”