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Pirsig eyes path to pros at Cali’s NFLPA game

By Staff | Jan 15, 2017

The headlines of Jonah Pirsig’s holiday season may have been as big as the former Golden Gopher tackle’s signature 6-foot-9 frame.

At the dawn of December, the Blue Earth Area High School graduate was named an All-Big Ten honoree, not to mention the University of Minnesota’s Offensive Lineman of the Year, for the second straight year.

It was a refreshing close to Pirsig’s stint in the trenches at TCF Bank Stadium, where he pancaked opposing lineman for a Gophers team that landed its 14th bowl-game appearance in 18 years two days after Christmas.

And accepting the recognition for a job well done as Minnesota’s starting right tackle was surely less edgy than enduring the nationwide controversy that swirled from that very bowl game in January.

Thrust into the Gophers’ team-wide protest of a 10-player suspension by the university, an ordeal that had the roster threatening to boycott Dec. 27’s Holiday Bowl and may or may not have fueled coach Tracy Claeys’ dismissal a week later, Pirsig hardly had a moment to breathe before wrapping up his college career and returning to California, where he was invited for the National Football League Players Association’s annual Collegiate Bowl.

And yet, to the big man awaiting a potential path to professional football, miles and miles from home with pressure of an upcoming career mounting by the day, all is well.

“This is my first time in California, and I’ve been out here training for the last week and a half,” Pirsig said Tuesday. “It’s a pretty good situation to be in.”

Not only because the West Coast weather is treating him a little nicer than, say, the wintery mix of hometown Southern Minnesota.

“I’ve had a place to stay and I’m working out, getting ready for the Collegiate Bowl, which is actually a weeklong thing,” he said. “It’s been nice.”

Invited to the 2017 event along with Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner and a wide range of other commits, Pirsig anticipates a sizable opportunity to play in the honorary game, which will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) from Carson, California’s StubHub Center on Jan. 21.

And he knows that every snap he takes both in the game and at the practices leading up to it could be crucial to his future post-college.

“It’s kind of one last chance to catch the eye of a scout,” he said. “It’s still pretty early for them to be talking about the draft, but that’s what this, the Senior Bowl, the Combine and pro days are for.”

Invites to the NFL’s annual weeklong Scouting Combine, hosted at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, will be sent out through January, Pirsig said. If he has the chance to attend, he anticipates doing so, and the same can be said for Mobile, Alabama’s college football all-star game, the Senior Bowl, on Jan. 28.

“Some invites have gone out, but hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll find out,” he said. “I’ll do a pro day on March 13 at the U of M regardless, but there’s no limit on the number of bowls you can be in.”

That bodes well for Pirsig, then, because ever since signing with Kyle Green, of Dallas’ United Athlete Agency, the same firm that represents Kansas City Chiefs running back Charcandrick West and Los Angeles Rams lineman Michael Brockers among others, the former BEA standout is bent on exhausting every opportunity he is afforded.

“From what I’ve heard,” he said, “I will hopefully have a chance with some team.”

If notable alumni of the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, like Chiefs receiver Chris Conley and Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King, are not an indication of the potential for a journey to the pros, the coaches that will be overseeing Pirsig in California may be.

Jim Zorn, who will lead the American Team to which Pirsig has been assigned, was a 13-year NFL quarterback who coached the Washington Redskins (2008-2009) and spent more than a decade as an assistant elsewhere.

And the NFLPA estimates that nearly 200 pro scouts, player personnel staff and general managers, as well as some NFL head coaches, are prone to visiting the Bowl for a look-see.

Either way, the busy holiday season for Pirsig is probably about to get busier, the lineman admitted.

Collecting awards, narrowing his search for an agent, saying goodbye to college and suiting up for a California bowl game after navigating through the controversy preceding it a situation unlike any other Pirsig had previously encountered and one that he said both “shed light on how a situation was handled” and spotlighted some poor choices was just the beginning.

Now, Pirsig’s eyes are on the next stage, wherever it may be.

“I mean, any team would be a blessing,” he said. “I grew up a Vikings fan, so being close to home would be nice.”

Had he been made aware the Vikes may be in search of some offensive line help?

“Yeah,” Pirsig said with a laugh, “I’ve heard that.”

Even all the way out in California.