Every year, over 100 of the top NFL Draft prospects gather in Mobile, Alabama for the annual Reese’s Senior Bowl. The game, and the entire week is an opportunity for NFL Draft prospects to showcase their talents one last time before the Draft, and being in it’s 72nd year in 2022 it is proven to be a turning point in many NFL players careers. Over the years, the Senior Bowl has hosted a lot of big name NFL stars. Players like Brett Farve, Reggie Wayne, Fred Taylor, Terrell Owens, Michael Strahan, Larry Allen, Bo Jackson and Christian Okoye have played in the game in the past while recently the game has seen Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel and more in the game as well. This year’s Senior Bowl headlined quarterbacks Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett alongside some other top tier prospects like Trevor Penning, Jermaine Johnson and Roger McCreary but there were also a number of underrated players at the game there improving their draft stock.
One player that went down to Mobile this year for the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl and instantly raised his draft stock was Ottawa’s Very Own Penn State linebacker and edge rusher Jesse Luketa. As a senior with the Nittany Lions Luketa made 61 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, shared a sack and had a pick six, adding to his phenomenal totals over his 38 career games at Happy Valley. When he had gotten to Mobile on Monday last week, his time at Penn State gave him a late round grade for the NFL Draft. Now, a few days out from the Senior Bowl game, he’s being looked at as an early draft pick all thanks to an exceptional week in Mobile.
It seemed as if Luketa was putting on a clinic each and every single day that he was in Mobile. He was making plays left, right and center during the week in practice against some of the best offensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft including 6-foot-8, 387 pound tackle Daniel Faalele from Minnesota who he had run over at 6-foot-3, 261 pounds. Luketa showed his full potential throughout the week, displaying to scouts, coaches, general managers and owners across the NFL how physical, and technical he can be as a pass rusher as well as how quick he is, being able to move easily into coverage if need be and stop the run efficiently too. Talking about the week he had in Mobile, Luketa had told me (Jordan Zlomislic from JZ Media), “It was a great opportunity for me to display my abilities at a higher, national level with scouts, GMs, owners all in attendance. It ultimately allowed me to raise my stock. Guys come to Mobile, and the mantra here is ‘The Draft Starts in Mobile’ so me personally I see it as an opportunity I felt I dominated from the day I arrived to today (on gameday Saturday) so I feel comfortable, and I feel excited.”
After seeing his performance all week on social media, and hearing his name all over the NFL world, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel down to Mobile, Alabama myself alongside Jean Guillaume who coached Luketa and has been a mentor of Luketa’s since high school. In Mobile, on the Friday night prior to the game on Saturday at dinner with Ottawa linebacker Kervens Bonhomme of South Alabama, myself and Coach Jean Guillaume, Jesse was adamant that he’d get a sack in the game. He had a stellar performance all week at practice, he thought it would be a perfect way to finish the week and raise his draft stock. Well, the very next day he got his sack. In fact, he got two. Jesse Luketa was one of many top performers of the Senior Bowl, making two sacks (one strip sack) as well as a tackle for loss on Alabama running back Brian Robinson. After the game, interviewing him about the two sacks he told me, “Once I got the first one I just kept telling myself to get two more. I got the second one and then from there I was working towards getting the third one. It didn’t happen but for me honestly I capped off a strong week with an even stronger performance I felt in the game so I’m extremely proud.”
For many, this week and the game from Luketa was a surprise. Sure, he’s made it this far, having the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl and receive an invite to the NFL Combine in March so there is some buzz around his name, but he exceeded a lot of people’s expectations from him. However for Luketa himself and those that have followed his football journey from the beginning, him having success at this stage is not a surprise at all. Since Jesse Luketa first stepped foot on a football field in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada he has dominated. One of Luketa’s mentors, Coach Jean Guillaume, the 2020 Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year, who coached him at St. Patrick’s High School in Ottawa and helped him through the process to go play at Mercyhurst Prep School in Erie, Pennsylvania was able to touch on exactly that, as well as the kind of person Luketa has been since he’s known him. “Jesse’s never changed.” Guillaume said, “He used to be a safety and I was coaching dbs, and he’d come to training I put on at the parks and I remember that was a kid that, you tell him to do one and he would do two, he would always give the extra. He would always push himself and he’s never changed. There’s some players out there that you can say something like, ‘he wasn’t that serious about anything when he was young until he played at this level.’ but Jesse is not that. He never changed. He’s always been a leader, and he’s always pushed himself to the last second of every thing he does. The same guy we are watching now is the same guy that was playing safety at 15 years old. He has put in the work and there shouldn’t be a surprise that he is doing what he is doing.”
Luketa is not the only one to be making this kind of impact at the next level from Ottawa. Just two years ago one of his best friends from Ottawa, Neville Gallimore went through the exact same process as him, playing in the Senior Bowl and getting drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Gallimore has since made 41 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and 3 sacks with the Cowboys in his first 19 games of his NFL career and is going on to be one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL in the next couple of seasons. Gallimore and Luketa went to school together growing up and played alongside each other during their early football days in Ottawa. To be in Mobile just two years after Gallimore, Luketa said, “It’s just going back to us sitting in a room before we even had the opportunity to even be in the situation we’re in playing in the senior bowl. We spoke it into existence,” he continued, “I’m a firm believer of manifestation. We spoke about us being in this exact situation and for me to be here, although it may be surreal sometimes, it’s expected and I’m extremely grateful to be in this position I’m in right now and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ottawa gas to produce moving forward because the talent is there, it’s more so just having that scope transferred over to all of the kids that have the dream to do the same thing we have.”
Beginning to show the younger generation of athletes the possibility of being at the same level as he and Gallimore, Jesse Luketa has always used his platform to put on for the city of Ottawa. His tags on social media have been “OttawasVeryOwn” for the longest time and he’s proud to be from the nation’s capital. Going into the NFL, his platform will only grow, and there will only be more opportunities to give back to the city he is from. When asked about that ability he was telling me, “It means everything.” and, “Those who know me know that I pride myself as a son of a village and I’m a product of my environment. Growing up in south Ottawa, Ontario, Canada it’s a low income area so for all of the kids that are thinking their dreams are too far attainable, I’m basically trying to change that, that stigma and show them, me achieving my dreams, show them that no dream is too far attainable and that they can do the same thing as me if they set their mind to it.”
These words from Luketa, demonstrating leadership for not only those around him but the entire city of Ottawa is a true testament to the kind of player and person he is. On the football field he has proven to be a top tier athlete. He is able to play almost anywhere you want him to play. Off the field he is the same, he is exactly the kind of person you want in your locker room. He is one that has fought through a lot of adversity throughout his own life and football career so he is grateful and humble to be where he is today and where he is headed. Luketa is a person that will never forget where he came from. It is clear that he loves being from Ottawa, and he will always put on for the city, but he is also someone that will always help and show love and appreciation for those around him. When talking about Luketa more in detail, Coach Guillaume commented, “Jesse is all about the community, and giving back. When you see his handle online it’s ‘Ottawa’s Very Own’ and he’s had that since the beginning. He didn’t just make that yesterday. He’s had it forever and he has always wanted to represent the city of Ottawa. When I see Jesse give back and put that spotlight on the city I get drunk of joy because all of these speeches I give to kids I coach about giving back, he does exactly that and nobody has ever needed to tell him to. He does it all on his own. He wants to do it and at the end of the day how can you not like this guy. He is setting a perfect example for the future of Ottawa and him doing good can only be good for the city of Ottawa. Jesse’s success is Ottawa’s success and the city should be cheering for him and supporting him with everything he does.”
On and off of the football field, Ottawa’s Very Own Jesse Luketa should be one to watch as he enters the NFL. He will be a star on film and will show everyone exactly the kind of football player he is, and what he can do at the top but it is important to take notice of the kind of person he is off of the football player as well. As one that had seen his Senior Bowl experience up close and personal, and one that has followed his football journey for a long time now, I know that Jesse Luketa is the exact kind of player and person that anyone would want to be a part of their NFL team. He is truly the full package as a player, a teammate, a leader, a community builder, and even a brand. On the football field, Luketa says that whoever drafts him is getting a player that is, “ready to work,” and “ready immediately and a guy that will be an overall leader and a cultural driver.” He told me, “I’m excited. This week (at the Senior Bowl) was good. I’m going to enjoy this, but it’s back to work and time to work on the next objective which is the combine.”
Luketa will be participating in the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis in March, and depending how he tests there, his draft stock may only keep going up.