Every year, the NFL draft produces a handful of small-school studs who prove they belong among the best players the sport has to offer. One of this year’s top candidates to earn that title is Charleston defensive lineman John Cominsky.
A massive, destructive defender who dominated the competition at the D-II level, Cominsky has a chance to see his draft stock soar with an impressive showing during Senior Bowl week.
Cominsky recently spoke exclusively with MCM about his unique journey, smashing the small-school-competition narrative, and how he plans on fulfilling his cinderella story.
JM: Where were you when you found out about your Senior Bowl invite and what was your initial reaction like?
JC: I was in class actually. My defensive line coach [Zack] Santolla texted me to come up to his office. He often asks me to come up to his office to catch me up on stuff and what not so I didn’t really think anything of it. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the Senior Bowl. He knew I had been wishing and hoping to get the invite for a long time. That’s something I’ve been praying for.
When I got to his office, I could see the look in his eyes. The news sent chills throughout my body. The world went silent for a minute. It was everything I ever dreamed of. I’ve been hoping and praying for this for so long. It was just awesome to see him get teary eyed. He was so excited to deliver the news to me. It was early afternoon when he texted me. That’s how that went down.
Congrats, John! We frequently get calls from our scouting buddies about small-school players that are “intriguing” late-round guys but the recommendations on Cominsky we more along the lines of, “You have to get this guy!”. Once we saw the tape we knew they were right. pic.twitter.com/0uXSfefh5U— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) November 22, 2018
JM: What’s the lasting impression you’re hoping to leave on the general managers and scouts in attendance?
JC: I want to show them that despite the route I’ve taken to get here, I’m confident in my abilities. I’m confident that I belong at the next level. I believe in myself. The route that I took was meant to be. The people that I’ve met, the coaches that I’ve met, the opportunities that I’ve had at the University of Charleston, I’ve embraced every minute of it. I just want them to understand that I have the confidence to move forward and compete at a higher level. I’ve embraced the path that I’m on.
JM: Do you realize what this could mean for not only the University of Charleston, but for all D-II prospects with hopes and dreams of playing at the next level? There’s an opportunity here for you to really change the narrative.
JC: Yeah, absolutely. I love the underdog story. I’m not calling myself an underdog but I come from the Mountain-East Conference, D-II football. There’s not too many guys who go from that to the NFL. I wanna put the University of Charleston on the map. There’s a lot of underclassmen who I think are well equipped to become NFL players themselves some day. To be able to give them that advantage moving forward, if I can help create a future opportunity, I’d be happy to help do that.
John Cominsky, MEC Defensive Player of the Year pic.twitter.com/4KQaIAg3YD— Mountain East Conf. (@TheMountainEast) November 13, 2018
There are guys playing D-II or even D-III that are out there and they’re more than capable of playing at the next level. I just think of those freshmen and some of the other guys I know that have the same dreams that I do. If I could give them that advantage by putting D-II on a higher level, I’d love to do that. If I could make it from D-II, they can too. That’s a really good feeling for me.
JM: It really is quite the opportunity. I wanna talk about your skill set as a player. Tell me about your pass rush arsenal.
JC: I definitely have a combination of speed and power. I’m 6-5, 285-pounds. At D-II, a lot of the offensive tackles are smaller than me so I’ve leaned on that. I saw no sense in dipping into some of my other skills other than speed-to-power. My senior year, I tried to step away from that and expand my arsenal. With these NFL teams coming around to scout me, I knew I had to show more than power. The offensive tackles at the next level are big and strong. I won’t be able to win with just power. I realize that.
I started to develop other areas of my game. I think I have a really good two-hand swipe. I do a great job of staying clean and not allowing them to get their hands on me. I’m very violent with my shoulders. I’m able to rip an offensive tackle and get around him. My combination of speed and power compliments each other well. I tried to develop that throughout the season. It was all about working on making my pass rush arsenal more unpredictable for my opponents. That’s what I was aiming for.
JM: I love talking to pass rushers. Nothing is more exciting to me than watching someone rush the quarterback. Speaking of developing a more diverse pass rush arsenal, how do you counter if your initial move is stopped?
JC: I always have a second move in mind. Most of the time, I win on my second move. Usually my initial move is some kind of power move, maybe a long-arm move. If the offensive tackle handles it and they don’t over-step me, or if they come back with enough power to stop me in my tracks, I usually have that second move ready to go. I usually work an inside-outside move and vice versa. If my initial move is a long-arm on the outside shoulder, my counter move is gonna be on the inside arm. If I go inside and I go for a power-rip on the inside, maybe I have that arm ready to be ripped out and then work back to his outside shoulder.
I like to work outside to inside. I always have a second move in mind. If the second move doesn’t work, you just have to stay violent and stay active with your hands and keep trying to get to the quarterback. After that, second nature takes over. You eventually get those hands off you. I always find a path to the ball. You definitely have a first and second move ready to go, and sometimes even a third move. After that, it’s just about doing whatever you can to get his hands off you and get to the quarterback.
JM: How much of a successful pass rushing rep is accomplished before the snap?
JC: I would say about 70 to 80 percent. What I’ve learned in my four years at Charleston is that pass rushing is like a chess match. When we’re running one-on-ones in practice, you have to use what he’s giving you. You have to use that to your advantage. If I come with a nasty outside move, that offensive tackle is thinking he just got beat outside and now he’s overcompenating. Well now, I can win inside on the next rep. It’s about using reverse psychology. Next time, I’m gonna act like I’m going outside again but now I’m staying outside this time. It’s one giant mind game.
When you start dominating him and it gets late in a game, you know what an offensive linemen is thinking by his stance. If I show that I’m gonna go power and I wanna rush through his face, I’m gonna give him a jab step and make him lunge and then swipe his arms away. It’s during that pre-snap alignment when the minds game occur. It’s the ultimate chess match between a defensive linemen and an offensive linemen. When I win, I’d say 75% of the time is because I had him pre-snap.
JM: Do you feel your game is more refined as a pass rusher or against the run?
JC: I would say that I’m very balanced. I feel like I was more of a run stopper in my early days, I didn’t have many moves on the outside yet. I put a huge emphasis on pass rushing this year. I think I’ve started to create a balance between the two. Moving forward, I think of myself as both a run stopper and a pass rusher. I need to be able to do both. I don’t see myself identifying as either/or. I would say that I’m a balanced player as far as being heavy and keeping contain in the run game. I’m able to get around those big, long tackles on the outside as a pass rusher. I can’t say that I lean towards one or the other. I’d say it’s about 50-50.
JM: Who were some players you enjoyed watching growing up?
JC: Growing up, especially in the later years, I love watching J.J. Watt of course. That’s more recent of course and I’m sure you hear that all the time. I always liked the crazy, high energy players. Jeremy Shockey was one of those guys. I’ll never forget the play when he had his helmet off and tried to run over a strong safety. Those are the kinda guys I like and admire. I love the nasty, nasty players. Ray Lewis was another one of those guys. I played quarterback growing up so I’ve always been cool, calm and collected.
I always loved the guys who played nasty though. I didn’t really have that opportunity while playing quarterback. As a defensive end, I can finally take something from those guys. I had to mention J.J. Watt from a technical standpoint. We have similar body types. I think I have the potential to make some of the same moves he makes. I’ve sorta crafted my game around what he does. I think he’s the ultimate pro.
JM: You’re gonna hear a lot about the D-II stuff throughout the process. Teams are gonna sit you down and ask about the small school competition. How do you plan on answering those questions?
JC: I have no problem being known as the D-II, scrappy workhorse. That’s music to my ears. I find the thought of building my reputation off that as very appealing. Moving forward and talking about the level of competition, I would say that you can take something positive from that. I’ve learned how to dominate. I’m used to going out there and dominating. Despite their skill set, I know what it feels like to truly dominate another human being. The mental aspect you gain from doing that gives me an advantage. I was limited in the competition I faced but there was nothing I can do about that. You control what you can control, and I went out and dominated.
If that comes up in a meeting with a scout or whatever, I’m just gonna talk about my opportunities. The Senior Bowl will be huge for me. It gives me a chance to go against some All-Americans at the D-I level. I’ll be going up against All-SEC guys. All I can say is that I’m ready to go up against that competition and show them what I can do.
That’s why I’m so excited about the Senior Bowl. Everybody will talk about the limited competition. They don’t know what I can do but they’re gonna find out at the Senior Bowl. I’m really excited about that. Once those general managers and scouts sit down with me after the game, we’re gonna be talking some higher level stuff. They’re gonna see that I can move these offensive linemen around and get past them the same way I did at the D-II level. That’s what I’m excited to show them.
JM: I love that answer right there. Is there a quarterback you’re looking forward to sacking at the next level?
JC: My family members ask me this question all the time. I would have to say Tom Brady. I pray he plays at least one more year and I get a chance to bring him down. I’d love to say that I sacked Tom Brady 30-40 years from now. That would make for a cool picture on my wall someday. I’d love to say that I took down the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. There’s some other guys too of course that I sit back and enjoy watching and have thought about how cool it would be to sack them. Guys like Ben Roethlisberger or Cam Newton. Those two guys are the size of a defensive linemen. I’d love to bring down a big, tall tree like that. Those are the three quarterbacks I have in mind.
JM: Everyone I ask, they always say Tom Brady.
JC: Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me (laughs). I’m sure that’s a typical answer from us defensive linemen. We all wanna be able to say we sacked Tom Brady.
JM: No doubt about that (laughs). I’ve really appreciated your time today, John. You’ve been a great sport. What can people expect from John Cominsky going forward?
JC: I’m going to fulfill my cinderella story. I’m gonna be a guy who came outta nowhere, Charleston, Virginia and put them on the map. I hope to leave my mark and be the greatest story to come out of this draft. I’ve been looking forward to shocking the world and being that draft pick that surprises the nation and brings a new element to the team that drafts me. I’m just looking forward to making the fans love me and letting them get to know me. I’m gonna show everybody what D-II football can bring to the table.