LIMA — The NFL wasn’t on Jarrod Pughsley’s radar five years ago.
The Lima Senior grad was battling his way to earn a football scholarship.
Now five years after Pughsley walked on to the University of Akron football team, he signed a free agent contract Saturday night with the Dallas Cowboys. The 6-foot-5, 308-pounder started the last two years at left tackle at Akron.
This past season he was named third team all-Mid-American Conference. He anchored an offensive line which gave up 2.2 sacks-per-game this year. As a junior he led a line in which the offense led the MAC and ranked 16th in the nation, including 313 passing yards-per-game.
“I really couldn’t imagine it (the NFL) when I left Lima Senior,” Pughsley said. “Back then I knew I had to get a scholarship to support my family. I slowly started progressing. It hit me this semester that this was possible.”
Pughsley received an email from the Cowboys on Sunday telling him to pack his bags.
“I leave Monday morning for rookie camp,” he said.
Pughsley didn’t know his father growing up and quickly began helping his mom, Jennifer, and his sister out around the house. His mother was a longtime school teacher in the Lima city school system, who now substitute teaches. His sister is six years younger.
“I was kind of the man of the house growing up,” Pughsley said.
As a senior at Lima Senior, Pughsley weighed 275 and had a number of Division II offers. But he had his sights set on playing Division I football.
“When I saw the size of the Division I athletes and compared myself, I thought I could be that size,” he said. “Then, when I got noticed by some MAC coaches, they tried to get me to walk on. That’s when I knew I wanted to do this.”
So Pughsley walked on to Akron, but because of his walk-on status, he missed the summer football workouts. He reported in the fall and was red-shirted. That staff had him gain weight and he went from 275 to 325.
After a coaching change to Rob Ianello, Pughsley was told to lose 50 pounds.
He did just that. Pughsley ended up playing special teams his freshman year.
“It helped me, as far as my character,” he said. “Countless guys had to lose weight, but some said, ‘Forget it. I’m out of here.’ I did what I was told.”
In his sophomore year, he was set to see plenty of time on the line, but he suffered a stress fracture and missed nine games. He returned to play three games, including starting the final two games of the year.
It was his sophomore year, his third year at Akron, that he finally earned his scholarship.
“My first year I was able to get an academic scholarship,” Pughsley said. Then, my sophomore year, I got a loan in my aunt’s name. The first thing I want to do now is pay that back.”
Then, on Dec. 22, 2011, Akron hired former Auburn head coach Terry Bowden.
Over his final two years, Pugshley was a starter on the offensive line, with most of those at left tackle. He did get four starts at guard, which he said helped his versatility in the eyes of the NFL scouts.
“The Cowboys came in contact with me this past week,” he said. “Others contacted me earlier, but they fizzled out. The Cowboys said if they didn’t draft me, they wanted to sign me.”
Former Dallas Cowboys vice-president of player personnel from 1960 to 1988 Gil Brandt said on his blog about Pughsley, “He’s an offensive line prospect who could be a project-type player in the NFL.”
NFLdraftinsider.net said, “Strong lineman effective as both a run blocker and in pass protection. Stays square, controls opponents once engaged in a block, and turns them from the action. … Pughsley is an underrated blocking prospect with solid size.”
This past weekend, Dallas drafted one offensive lineman, Zack Martin (Notre Dame), who was taken in the first round, with the 16th overall pick.
And while Pughsley said he wasn’t thinking NFL when he came out of high school, he said there was always that dream.
“It was always in the back of my mind to play pro, but I was always realistic,” Pughsley said. “At Akron, my first goal was to get a scholarship. Then my goal was to be a starter. Then, I just wanted to play to the best of my ability.”
Pughsley was in Lima this past week to support Quincey Simpson, who was named Lima Senior’s head boys basketball coach. Pughsley also talked to the students at Lima’s Unity Elementary School.
“I love giving back to the kids,” he said. “I love my city and I like sharing my story.”