Carl Nassib: The Most Unlikely Walk On Success Story You Will Ever Hear

Every year, high school players capable of playing football at the college level go unnoticed. Even with the explosion of online scouting services, internet highlight videos, and college coaching staffs looking high and low for talent virtually all year, quality players receive no offers to play in college and their football careers come to an end.

By: Cory Burrell

Penn State senior defensive end Carl Nassib was almost one of those players. Today, instead of being one of the countless former football players who call it quits after high school, he has become one of the most devastating forces on defense in college football this season – with an eye on what could be a very successful career in the NFL.

Nassib attended Malvern Prep in West Chester, PA. On the school’s football team, he saw little time, never ranking higher than the third defensive end spot on the depth chart. To say scouts thought little of him is an understatement. Nassib received zero offers from any schools to play football. Instead of being deterring from playing college ball, Nassib sent a DVD of his final game to Ron Vanderlinden, then a co-defensive coordinator for Penn State.

“I saw a tall, rangy body that had a knack,” Vanderlinden, now a coach at Air Force, said in an interview with ESPN. “He had good timing. He batted down some balls and made plays that showed toughness and wherewithal. He played with good leverage. I remember how much I liked him; he just needed to add weight.”

Vanderlinden thought enough of Nassib to offer him a chance to compete for a walk on spot with Penn State – as part of the scout team. Nassib accepted and earned the scout team position. This alone would be a major personal accomplishment for many unsigned high school players. Nassib was not satisfied though. Even though he was not getting time on the field, Nassib grinded away in the weight room virtually every free hour, adding strength and weight to his somewhat gangly body. By many accounts, such as that of his brother Ryan Nassib, a quarterback in the NFL, Carl lived in the weight room.

“I just remember that every time I talked to Carl he was always, ‘Just leaving the weight room, just leaving the weight room,’” Ryan said. “Every year, he just got a little bit better and a little bit stronger.”

In the spring of 2013, Nassib was promoted from a walk on to a scholarship player. Another milestone, but again, Nassib still had goals to achieve. In a meeting with Bill O’Brien, the head coach of Penn State at the time, shortly before O’Brien offered Nassib the scholarship, Nassib expressed his desire to play professional. In a recent interview with Fox 26 Houston, O’Brien talked about this meeting with Nassib and how the former walk-on’s pro aspirations drew more than a raised eyebrow from the coach.

“He came in and I basically questioned, this is how smart I am, questioned how important football was to him,” O’Brien, now the head coach of the Houston Texans, said. “He said to me, ‘Football is really important to me. I’m going to play pro football.’ I said to him, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re going to play pro football? You need to be concerned about playing at Penn State, forget about pro football.’ He proved me wrong.”

Nassib would not start proving O’Brien or anyone other doubter wrong until this season. He saw limited game action in the prior seasons, but did nothing that would astound or impress many. But from the very first game of the 2015 season, Nassib started showcasing his skills. He recorded at least one sack a game and set a school record for most sacks in a single season. Even while missing the final two games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury, Nassib’s 16 sacks and six forced fumbles remain the top marks of any player in the nation.

Nassib’s performance earned him an overwhelming flood of awards – including BIg Ten Defensive Player of the Year, the Vince Lombardi Award for best lineman, and consensus All-American honors, to name a few. But beyond the awards, Nassib has also gained a quickly-growing amount of interest from NFL scouts. As the year has progressed, Nassib has shot up from undrafted to a sixth-round talent to all the way to ranking among the top 10 defensive ends in the entire draft. Per Optimum Scouting’s defensive end rankings, Nassib ranks sixth among all senior defensive ends and projects as a third-round talent.

Nassib will have one final game, the Taxslayer Bowl against a nine-win Georgia team, before his collegiate career comes to an end and his pro career will begin to take shape. Nassib will certainly face his fair share of obstacles in his pro career, as he has working his way up in the college level. But if Nassib’s past accomplishments and work effort have shown anything, he love overcoming challenges and proving people wrong.