Johnny Petrishen poised to get his shot in NFL


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

Former Pitt linebacker John Petrishen participated in the broad jump at NFL Pro Day on March 21.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

NFL scouts are notorious for asking prospects outlandish questions about hypothetical situations that are entirely unrelated to football. One team asked former Pitt linebacker Johnny Petrishen where he’d want to sit on a bus that didn’t have any brakes and was rolling down a hill. Petrishen’s answer was a fitting one given the track of his football career — he wants to be in the driver’s seat.

“I said the driver’s seat,” Petrishen said. “I could see or at least direct where the bus is gonna go if the brakes are shot. I don’t know if that’s the right answer or not, but I hope that’s what it was.”

Petrishen’s college football career was a rollercoaster. He saw limited time at Penn State while battling injuries, transferred to Pitt and changed positions from safety to linebacker. For a lot of the time, he wasn’t in the “driver’s seat.” Injuries outside of his control derailed much of his college career and he admitted that some luck and a clean bill of health contributed to his success in 2021.

“I think, you know, it was a product of a lot of hard work, a lot of consistency, a lot of persistence and also a little bit of luck,” Petrishen said. “It takes some luck to stay healthy. It was a matter of time, so I was due for that and I think it paid off. I was really happy with the season I had personally, but I definitely want to do more.”

The Pittsburgh native played in every game for the Panthers in 2021, registering 74 tackles and three interceptions as a linebacker. The road to the NFL became a little bit more clear after the season concluded, given his increased on-field role within the team. But before he could feel comfortable saying he’d be on a roster come September, he had to perform in pre-draft drills in front of NFL teams.

These drills, once again, are unrelated to football. Teams measure how fast a player can run in a straight line, how far and high players jump and how many times a player can bench press 225 pounds and other various exercises. Petrishen said it’s a strange concept that players have to perform well in a non-football drill in order to pique the interest of NFL scouts.

“I guess it’s the best way to measure overall athleticism between all the different drills and tests that they put you through,” Petrishen said. “But it is crazy, because some guys just don’t test well … It doesn’t make or break you, but it has a very high weight on to where you’re drafted and how they evaluate you.”

Players have two opportunities to perform these drills — at the NFL Combine, which requires an invitation from the NFL, and their team’s Pro Day. Despite Petrishen’s versatile skill set and performance on the gridiron, the NFL didn’t invite Petrishen to the NFL Combine where the “top prospects” perform drills in front of NFL scouts and coaches.

Pitt’s Pro Day immediately became Petrishen’s first and only chance to impress NFL scouts with his athleticism. The linebacker said it was “the most important interview of his life” which inherently made the event more stressful.

“There’s definitely less room for error,” Petrishen said. “Sometimes all a player needs is Pro Day and that opportunity for a team to fall in love with them. So, I think I checked all the boxes that I needed to on Pro Day. I’m glad it went as well as it did.”

Petrishen’s preparation for Pro Day was rigid, adhering to strict schedules in order to keep his dream alive with a solid performance at Pro Day. He said he’d typically wake up at 6 a.m. and do a speed workout before eating, going to physical therapy, then lifting in the afternoon and going to bed around 8:30 p.m.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi said after Pro Day, he was really impressed with each one of his former players’ preparation and performances at the event.

“I thought they really looked good,” Narduzzi said. “They did a great job training. There was no ‘oh where’s he been training?’ I’m really proud of the way they all prepared coming into this. I got a lot of great reviews from scouts, coaches and [general managers].”

Petrishen stood with the Pitt script backdrop behind him for one final time at Pitt’s Pro Day. He took it all in, watching as representatives from 31 NFL teams took note of his performance. His 4.53-second 40-yard dash and 20 reps on the bench turned heads. The linebacker said multiple teams gave him reassurance that he boosted his draft stock at his Pro Day.

It’s no surprise that he did, either. Among linebackers, his 4.18-second shuttle time would have been the best at his position at the NFL Combine. His 40-yard dash time also would’ve been one of the best times amongst linebackers at the Combine, all while doing it at 227 pounds. 

NFL teams aren’t just looking for athletes — they’re looking for someone who will contribute to the community and be a teammate people want to be around. Petrishen has given back to the community through his NIL deals and other charity events. On top of his efforts to better his city, Petrishen has established himself as a player that his teammates can rely on. Wide receiver Tre Tipton said he goes to Petrishen all of the time when discussing who helped him in times of need.

“My boy [Petrishen], I talk to him a lot,” Tipton said before the 2021 season. “Having teammates and having a strong tribe is one of the things that I talk about.”

Given all of these factors, NFL scouts have reached out to Petrishen for pre-Draft interviews. While these interactions with NFL scouts and general managers are surreal to an extent for Petrishen, he said he never had a doubt that one day he’d be in the position he is now.

“It’s a really cool feeling,” Petrishen said. “I always kind of knew that I would get to this point in my career, but there were many times where I wasn’t sure how in the world was going to happen… I can’t say that, you know, I didn’t expect this. I knew this was always going to happen. I always felt like I almost kind of envisioned it and manifested it so clearly that I probably believed that it was always like this.”

Petrishen’s agent has reached out to all 32 NFL teams, and he has a good idea of which teams may want to draft or sign him. The Pittsburgh native and former Panther will find out where he’s heading at the end of this month as the NFL Draft takes place in Las Vegas from April 28-30. The Draft will air live on ESPN.