John Cominsky Was Built For This

 

Go to YouTube. "John Cominsky highlights." First link.

First play? Tackle in pursuit. Then a tackle-for-loss. Then a QB hit -- pressure turns into a throwaway. Tackle-for-loss again, tackle-for-loss again, tackle-for-loss again.

A Division II All-American, DII Academic All-American, and MEC Defensive Player of the Year, Cominsky caught the golden goose that every dominant DII prospect chases: a Senior Bowl bid. He joins pass rushers from Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, and Mississippi State; squares off against linemen from Boston College, Oklahoma, USC, Washington. Everything feels limited, urgent: the practice reps, the time teams have to interview you, the improvements you can make across a week; and as such, everything feels important.

But for Cominsky, one thing isn't limited: what he can do with opportunity, no matter how small. They are long walks that bear high summits, and few of his SEC and Big 10 counterparts took as many steps on as steep of inclines to get to this overlook, this first but not best of peaks in the NFL Draft journey. Cominsky clawed his way onto the Senior Bowl roster, and for this week, this one precious week, the field is level and the odds evened. Cominsky's given himself a chance.

[caption id="attachment_28081" align="alignnone" width="2000"] University of Charleston Athletics[/caption]

Go to YouTube. "John Cominsky high school highlights." First link.

Well, not really. It's the exact same link. Cominsky's high school film reel never made it on to YouTube, you see -- not like Chase Winovich's or Jalen Jelks' or Christian Miller's. But that's fine: Cominsky's younger dominance is still captured on Hudl.

First play? Tackle for loss -- that looks familiar.

But the next play is a 10-yard curl route, and not even a good one. 48.5 eventual tackles for loss -- in 40 career games, mind you -- is out there running routes.

What's next? A tackle on a fake punt.

A trick play reverse pass from the backfield.

A QB keep on a read option.

Things have changed for Cominsky since those days in Barberton, a small suburb outside of Akron, Ohio. The Barberton Magics went 9-31 over his four years; he finished his senior year as the primary ball-handler in an option attack that went 2-8. They were the 423rd best football program among Ohio high schools.

"I just ran hard." Cominsky remembers what it was like to have the ball in his hands. "I didn't have any crazy juke moves, spin moves...I had a pretty decent stiff-arm," he chuckles. "It was just backyard ball. I was just bigger, faster."

That was 80 pounds ago.

"I was an inch shorter, too," Cominsky points out.

The recruiting trail was understandably cold for an unproductive option QB at a small Ohio school -- no matter the athlete he was at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. Pitt had expressed interest in giving Cominsky a preferred walk-on designation to play either defensive end or tight end, and hometown Akron was always an option -- the Barberton coaching staff had no better connections than those at the college just up the road.

But there wasn't a single scholarship offer on the table until Brian Staats, an old Magics coach who had remained in the school system as a social sciences teacher, called a coach he knew from a while back, now coaching receivers at the University of Charleston. Only two days after Staats sent Cominsky's film, the young man's phone rang.

"[They] offered me a small scholarship; miniscule amount. I basically walked on -- but just the idea of receiving an athletic scholarship was enough." It was a door cracked open; the inaugural opportunity. "I was all in on Charleston from that point forward."

When Charleston announced their recruiting class, they had Cominsky at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. They listed his position as QB/WR/OLB/SS. They had no idea what he could become.

[caption id="attachment_28082" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Left: Cominsky as a senior at Barberton High School. Right: Cominsky as a senior at the University of Charleston.[/caption]

Cominsky knew two things: he had always liked the weight room, and he had never liked breakfast.

"I've always loved throwing weight around, even if I didn't know what I was doing," Cominsky says. He's somewhere around 280 pounds during his training in Naples, Florida -- but his frame isn't even full. Teams have talked about the possibility of getting him to the 300s and sliding him inside; Cominsky feels like he could put another 20 pounds on, easy. "Once I got to college, things got a little bit more organized, little bit more structured, I just bought in to what the strength coach offered. Before you know it, I'm gaining 20 pounds every season."

Sounds great, but good luck if you want to replicate the success. Cominsky keeps his secrets close to the vest, if he even has any at all. He ate anything he wanted, but was always sure to go get another plate after he felt full; he forced himself up to eat when he wanted to sleep in; he said good night with a couple of peanut butter and jellies. Now that he's cleaning up for the Combine, he's cut out the late-night sammies, the fast food and the candy -- it's a lot more fruit and veggies, much to his chagrin.

Special lifting playlist? Not really. Rock 'n roll, old rap, new rap, 80s -- anything that's upbeat and loud will get Cominsky's blood pumping. If he has to power through, he turns to Asking Alexandria or Slipknot. "Screamin' bands," he calls them. "Head-bangin' music." If it raises the blood pressure, Cominsky will break the glass for that last set of heavy squats.

Every year for spring ball, Cominsky took the field in a reimagined and repurposed body. He ran through drills, conditioning -- felt out the new weight and how well he could carry it while maintaining his speed, his explosiveness. Maybe he added a few pounds, maybe shed a few, until he knew he felt right.

His redshirt freshman season, Cominsky started at defensive end for the Golden Eagles at 245 pounds. He racked up 37 tackles and 4 sacks.

[caption id="attachment_28084" align="alignnone" width="1024"] University of Charleston Athletics[/caption]

The weight room built the machine -- it wasn't until his junior year that Cominsky learned all the levers and buttons, the dials and doohickeys. That development is tougher to track; there isn't a scale you can check each year to see the upward climb. But Cominsky felt it click.

"After my sophomore season, I was a second-team all-conference kid, but I still didn't like the way I looked on film. I got into spring, I was more focused than I've ever been -- and I started just whoopin' on everybody in practice." Cominsky's Ohio drawl sharpens as he gets more excited. "There's nobody who's blocking me. Nobody."

It came down to experience and her fickle companion, instinct. The positional nomad started to see the field differently, his hand in the dirt, no longer the quarterback but instead the heat-seeking missile after him. He saw offensive line splits and felt the direction of the play; he saw tackles' staggered feet and anticipated pass sets. Always, Cominsky had been bigger, stronger, and faster -- but suddenly, he was smarter, too.

Cominsky remained unsatisfied, critical. It was dissatisfaction that held his skinny frame together through during his freshman year, during the scout teams reps in which Charleston's offensive line trounced him again and again. It was dissatisfaction that kept him afloat when his defensive line coach didn't grant his request to switch to tight end, dissatisfaction that inspired him to hold out for a scholarship in the first place. There were expectations, standards -- and they were characterized by dominance, that freedom he felt when he outclassed every poor sod stuck on the gridiron with him. Until he cleared those objectives, he was not appeased. He was big, but could get bigger; smart, but could get smarter.

Stop. "Dude, just watch yourself," Cominsky remembers his coaches telling him.

So he did. His junior year, he sat down and stopped critiquing his film, picking at the nuances of his technique, wondering what could be. He sat and watched, and realized he had been chasing his tail: he saw dominance once again.

Teams were motioning tight ends to get a double-team, if not just sliding the line his way altogether. They refused to run the ball his direction. They threw cut blocks at him to try to get his big frame on the ground.

"I'm a problem on the field," Cominsky says bluntly. "Guys don't want me."

Those were DII tackles, though. They weren't built to handle a caged animal like Cominsky; and Cominsky knows that, because Cominsky was built for this: for Power-5 competition, for NFL-caliber competition, with length and size and speed and knowledge. A different high school system, and Cominsky knows he would have been at one of these universities; an earlier breakout in mass, and he would have garnered some more inquisitive glances from recruiters.

His path could have been simpler, straight-forward. Instead, it was a hard path -- but a hard one that he made look easy. So easy, in fact, he's been put on a hard one again.

At the Senior Bowl, Cominsky will once more become the freshman who got dumped on his head, time after time. The offensive tackles in Mobile will punish him if his technique is poor or his approach sloppy; the coaches will ream him out when he fails to reach the newly-set bar.

Cominsky welcomes it. Cominsky relishes it.

Cominsky's been looking for the wrong side of the odds, for that frightening square one -- last time he was there, he played himself into four years a starter, three years an all-conference pick, and the narrow NFL spotlight. Opportunity knocked then, and Cominsky answered -- and now that he's tasted its fruits, he enters Mobile with a different perspective, a matured hunger. Everyone else is on Step 1; he's on Step 2.

Is he at a disadvantage, because his helmet is tougher to recognize? Does he have more to prove, because his program didn't play on ESPN on Saturdays? Maybe -- but if he is, all the better. Cominsky's been behind the count before; he knows how to get out in front.