Former Hawkeyes Kluver, Kulick take aim at exclusive NFL club

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tyler Kluver has an odd piece of trivia at the top of his mind these days.

“The average NFL long-snapper is 6-3, 245-250 pounds,” Kluver said this week, reciting a fact that almost no one else would care to know.

Who’s the smallest?

“Jon Weeks of the Texans is 5-10, 250,” Kluver was quick to respond.

“So I’ve got a chance.”

Iowa senior Tyler Kluver in his natural stance, preparing to deliver a long-snap during a spring practice in West Des Moines. The senior has been so consistent the past three seasons that he hardly gets noticed.

Kluver just graduated after four seasons of flawless long-snapping at Iowa. He measured at 5-10 3/8 during the Hawkeyes’ Pro Day on Monday. He knows that height works against him when trying to secure an NFL job.

Former Iowa fullback Drake Kulick is fighting the same uphill battle as he hopes for a future as a professional football player. And he’s done his homework as well in surveying NFL rosters to size up the competition.

“Eight to 10 teams don’t have fullbacks listed on their roster. Even the teams that have them, there’s several that aren’t necessarily happy with who they have,” Kulick said.

The leadup to next month’s NFL Draft has been full of stories about ex-Hawkeyes expected to land in the first round (cornerback Josh Jackson, center James Daniels) or who can point to flashy college careers (linebacker Josey Jewell, running back Akrum Wadley).

Kluver and Kulick are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They are trying to fill one of 32 niche roles in the NFL, positions where players aren’t drafted, but rather picked over by bargain-hunting scouts like last year’s fashions.

Even NASA has 44 active astronauts at its disposal. The club Kluver and Kulick are trying to break into is more exclusive than that.

That’s why Pro Day was so important for the two Iowa natives (Kluver is from Marshalltown, Kulick from Muscatine). There were 39 scouts in attendance. Even if most weren’t there to look at long-snappers or fullbacks, it just takes one team to show interest and an NFL career could be born.

“I don’t think they expected much out of me,” Kluver said of the scouts. “They care about the film, and hopefully with four years of film they can get what they want from that. I knew I was going to snap well (Monday). The physical stuff was more what I was excited about.”

Kluver has spent the three months since his senior season ended drinking chocolate milk and studying NFL rosters. He swallowed five of the 200-calorie drinks a day and put on 20 pounds to reach 235. He’s not sick of the concoction yet, he said, and will gain another 10 pounds if that’s what NFL teams want.

He ran a 5.02-second 40-yard dash, bench-pressed 225 pounds 22 times, showed off a 33-inch vertical jump and proclaimed himself happy with the change-of-direction skills he was able to show off.

“I don’t want to come off as cocky or arrogant, but as far as a long-snapper goes I’ve always tried to compete with the linebackers and tried to consider myself an athlete more than anything,” said Kluver, who was a linebacker in high school.

Now, he’ll wait for his phone to ring sometime after the draft ends April 28. Kluver thinks he hit a good year in that several NFL teams have older long-snappers and may be looking for a change. But there’s no way to know. He pointed out that former Hawkeye Casey Kreiter got only two calls when he completed a standout career here. Kreiter is now with the Denver Broncos.

Iowa fullback Drake Kulick pounds his way into the end zone to put Iowa up for good as the Hawkeyes won, 27-20, over Boston College during the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.

Kulick, who measured in at 6-1, 249 pounds, has a little better margin for error. Many NFL teams want not only one fullback on their active roster but another on the practice squad. Kulick also can tout his ability to play all four phases of special teams, which he did at Iowa.

“Every team is going to have one whether it’s a formal fullback or whether it’s a tight end/fullback hybrid. I just have to prove my worth and show these guys that, ‘Hey, you maybe need me on your team,’” Kulick said. “I view myself as one of the 32 best.”

Kulick battled through a hamstring injury to clock a 4.76 40 and a 34-inch vertical at Pro Day. He said scouts on hand had him do a circuit of pass-catching drills and he didn’t drop a single one.

Plus, Kulick played in a pro-style offense at Iowa that actually utilizes the fullback. He was mainly a blocker, but did catch a handful of passes. He also scored the game-winning touchdown in the Hawkeyes’ Pinstripe Bowl victory in December.

“The tape that I’ve put together over the past two years speaks for itself. I don’t think anybody doubts my ability as a fullback,” Kulick said. “Maybe people doubted my ability as an athlete. I hope that going forward I can maybe silence the doubters a little bit there.”

Kulick, an exercise science major, said he hasn’t thought about a fallback option if fullback isn’t his future. There’s plenty of time to be a working stiff.

“I put all my eggs in this basket because I wanted to go at this with a full head of steam 100 percent,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll be successful in something.”

Kluver has thought a little farther ahead. He’s moving to Waukee soon with his fiancée and has plans to be a CrossFit coach, maybe owning his own gym, if no NFL teams want to take a chance on a 5-10 long-snapper.

“I’ll stay in shape. I don’t know how long I’ll do it,” Kluver said. “I’ll probably plan on snapping on a consistent basis for another year, up to the 2019 draft.”

Neither Kluver nor Kulick want to make a snap decision. But it’s a challenging path ahead of them, and they know that better than anyone.