GCC grad Tyler Balla hoping to continue career in football
New Kensington resident and former Allegheny football standout running back Tyler Balla woke up in his childhood bed Monday morning and continued his pursuit of fulfilling his boyhood dream of becoming a professional football player.
Balla, along with 50 other NFL hopefuls, showed up at the second annual Cal (Pa.) Pro Football Combine at Cheswick’s Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena on Monday looking to take advantage of an opportunity and turn a few heads.
“Getting invited (to the NFL combine) was something that I always dreamed about, but that wasn’t a reality for me coming from a small Division III school,” said Balla, a 2015 Greensburg Central Catholic grad. “I treat this like it is the NFL combine, like it’s the legit one. It’s a huge honor for me to be here, and hopefully I’ll open a couple people’s eyes. That’s all I’m really looking to do.”
The invite-only event hosted players from more than 20 colleges and universities across all three NCAA divisions to give players who were not invited to February’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis a chance to perform and work out in front of professional scouts.
While none of the players are expected to be selected in the seven rounds of April’s NFL Draft, most are looking for an opportunity to catch on to a NFL roster. Last year, the combine drew 40 players with 10 earning invitations to NFL preseason camps.
“The players are really good people,” Pittsburgh Steelers college scout Mark Gorsack said. “They listen well and they learn well. We had one young man from Robert Morris who made a practice squad with the (Arizona) Cardinals (last year) and we signed a couple for three-day tryouts also.”
In addition to the Steelers, scouts from the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers were on hand. There also was a heavy showing by the CFL. Scouts from the BC Lions, Hamilton Tiger Cats, Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts took advantage of the combine’s proximity and made the trip south. The CFL draft is scheduled for May 2.
“It’s a great opportunity to see one group of players in one facility,” Montreal director of Canadian scouting Vince Magri said. “It’s too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
There were no TV cameras on hand. No sideline interviews with Deion Sanders or Michael Irvin, but that was about all that was different. Players ran the same tests and position drills. Players were measured, timed in the 40-yard dash and shuttle run, measured in the broad jump and vertical jump and run through position drills.
“Some of these guys stood out,” Gorsack said. “I think there’s a couple of offensive lineman here that stood out. It’s about providing opportunities for people to get a job and about providing opportunities for people to keep a job.”
Balla was joined by three other WPIAL alumni. Anthony Davis (Gateway), Louis Berry (Shady Side Academy) and Rocco Esposito (Sto-Rox) all made their cases. Esposito, a 6-foot-7, 297-pound offensive lineman who transferred to IUP from Wake Forest, expects to hear his phone ring as a free-agent signee after the draft. He was one of the top players in attendance who really helped his chances to earn a camp contract.
“I’m just trying to make an impression,” Esposito said. “So far, my journey to get here has been up and down and there’s been a lot of bumpy roads.”
Balla is just hoping scouts see past his 5-8, 176-pound frame and focus on the fact that the kid from New Kensington has something that can’t be measured — heart.
“I want(ed) to showcase my quickness,” Balla said. “I think a lot of people overlook me because I’m small. It’s true, I am small, but I think that gives me an advantage because I can cut fast and open up space against defenders.”
Balla bench pressed 225 pounds 13 times and ran the 40 in 4.87 seconds. Balla led the Gators last season in rushing (1,061 yards) and touchdowns (13) in his final year. Both totals ranked third and second, respectively, in the North Coast Athletic Conference last season.
“I always dreamed about playing in the NFL and just playing after college,” Balla said. “It would be awesome. I don’t care if it’s in the NFL or if it’s in these new leagues; the XFL is out now. If I could play after college and play for a living that would be a dream come true for me.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.