Austen Bujnoch, who once wrote a grade school report on the history of the Bengals, showed up for Wednesday’s local day at Paul Brown Stadium trying to make a bit of his own history.
Bujnoch, one of 24 draft prospects invited to PBS, is attempting to follow in the footsteps of his father and make it in the NFL. A guard who played at the University of Cincinnati, Bujnoch tried to show the Bengals that A) he’s over the broken foot that hobbled his senior year and B) he’s versatile enough to play a couple of different spots.
Along with Bujnoch, Ohio State guard Andrew Norwell and the University of Cincinnati’s Dre Cureton have some big shoes to fill when it comes to past pro days. Eagles center Jason Kelce of the University of Cincinnati just signed a six-year, $38 million deal belying his sixth-round selection in the 2011 draft. Tackle Jeff Linkenbach came out of UC undrafted a year earlier and he’s got 33 NFL starts.
“Some of these guys will play in the pros,’ said Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander. “In the last couple of years we’ve had some guys here gone on and do well and some of these guys will probably do the same.”
NFL teams are allowed to invite players who played either high school or college in the Cincinnati metro area for a pre-draft workout. Except for Northwest High School’s Preston Brown, a linebacker at Louisville, Wednesday’s group is trying to hook on in the later rounds or as a free agent.
Brown, projected as an inside linebacker to go somewhere in the mid-rounds, didn’t work Wednesday because of a strained Achilles. But he did spend classroom time with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and linebackers coach Matt Burke.
“It gives us one more look at them before the draft and then before free agency. So it’s important,” said Greg Seamon, the scout who ran the workout. “It’s a good chance for these guys to run around and show their athleticism.”
They were certainly ready. The call was for 7 a.m., but by 5:55 a.m. there was a group already lined up at the security office ready to come in. Bujnoch, the son of former Bengals guard Glenn Bujnoch, had already been here to write his paper a few years ago, but he was still excited.
“It’s always great to be around the team in your hometown that you grew up rooting for,” Bujnoch said. “I was looking for a picture of (Glenn), but I didn’t see one.”
But he did get a handshake and welcome from Bengals president Mike Brown after he watched the workout.
“You had a fine career out there. You were one of the reasons we were watching you guys play. Thank you for coming out,” Brown told him.
It turns out that’s not the first time Austen Bujnoch talked to Brown at PBS. Or head coach Marvin Lewis, for that matter.
“He probably doesn’t remember, but I talked to him for my report,” Bujnoch said of the project for Our Lady of Visitation. “I talked to some players and coaches. I talked to (former running backs coach) Jim Anderson. I got some pictures in front of lockers. Carson’s (Palmer). And I got a picture with Coach Lewis. That’d be pretty funny to see now.”
Bujnoch has traveled a long road to the PBS security gate. After playing his senior year on a broken foot, he’s been back for a month-and-a-half going at it hard and agent Richard Katz has taken phone calls from interested teams. If they get into a camp, UC linemen have a habit of sticking around.
“He’s smart, aggressive, and I think he can play both guards and center,’ said Alexander, who made all three linemen snap the ball.
Norwell, the last of brothers who helped make Cincinnati’s Anderson High School a power, may not be thinking center, but he is thinking versatility. His first five games for the Buckeyes were at left tackle in 2011 before he moved to guard. Part of his 39 games included Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak.
“He’s a big tough guy that had a good college career,” Alexander said. “When he did play tackle he did a good job.”
Norwell also has some pedigree. His oldest brother, Adam, was one of the top high school basketball players in Cincinnati before becoming one of the starters for Northern Kentucky University when the Norse started to make noise in the mid-90s.
His next brother, Chris, played on the defensive line at Illinois before getting signed by the Patriots after his draft. He later moved to Minnesota before a battle with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma ended his career. Five years later he’s hearty and healthy and is the strength coach and defensive line coach, as well as a track coach, at Northern Kentucky’s Thomas More College.
“He’s a jack of all trades over there,” Norwell said. “We have a competition trying to be the No. 1 brother. Chris says he is, but technically that’s Adam because he’s the oldest. I’m proud of all my brothers. They’ve been great mentors and done it the right way.”
He may be the first one in the pros. Norwell has received interested calls and he made one trip last week to visit a team.
“Late round or whatever,’ is what Norwell is hearing. “I know I’m going to get my opportunity to play at the next level and that’s what matters.”
The tight ends were of note with UC’s Blake Annen coming off that blistering 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Bearcats’ pro day two months ago. He was joined by Indiana’s Ted Bolser out of Cincinnati’s Indian Hill School and Wisconsin’s Brian Wozniak via Loveland High School.
“The tight ends caught the ball really well and they’re each a different type,” Seamon said. “Some are more receivers, some are blockers. But all three showed they could catch and also run pretty well to really well.”