Coby Fleener leads homegrown NFL draft hopefuls

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CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 5: Tight end Coby Fleener #82 of the Stanford Cardinal makes a catch over safety Ryan Murphy #25 of the Oregon State Beavers on November 5, 2011 at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon. (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)

Coby Fleener was unheralded for three years at Joliet Catholic because there was nothing to herald. As a junior, he was a bit player on the football team who sometimes didn’t even get into the game.

A major contributor in baseball and basketball, Fleener worked on his strength and speed to become a factor in football and hit the jackpot. At 6-6 and 210 pounds, he was running a 4.45 40-yard dash.

The offers started mounting: Arizona State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Boston College, Missouri, Colorado, Connecticut.

Fleener signed with Stanford and new coach Jim Harbaugh. Even by then, he wanted a chance to get a degree that mattered, win football games and get a shot at the NFL.

‘‘Absolutely,” said Fleener, who grew up in Lemont. ‘‘I wanted to play great football. It was a dream for me to play in the NFL. But I realized there was a lot of work to be done to even consider being part of such an awesome thing.”

After redshirting as a freshman, he improved each year, and at 6-6, 247, he is projected as a late first- or second-round pick. After running a 4.45 40 at Stanford’s pro day, he might be bigger than anyone thinks. It’s happened before.

And his timing is impeccable. After the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham (99 catches, 1,310 yards, 11 TDs) and the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski (90-1,327, 17) led a prolific season for tight ends, even more NFL teams are looking for exactly what Fleener can do.

Fleener, projected by many to go to the New York Giants in the first round (32nd overall), heads the group of Chicago-area players expected to be drafted. Among the others:

â€â€‰Illinois offensive tackle Jeff Allen (King), who had a workout with the Bears, is projected as a second- or third-round pick.

â€â€‰Michigan’s David Molk (Lemont), who won the Rimington Trophy as the best center in the country, is projected to go between the third and sixth rounds.

â€â€‰Notre Dame linebacker Darius Fleming (St. Rita) is projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

â€â€‰Iowa guard Adam Gettis (Lincoln-Way East), a second-team all-Big 10 selection who had the fastest 40 time among offensive linemen at the scouting combine (4.91), is projected as a mid-round pick.

â€â€‰Iowa tackle Markus Zusevics (Prospect) tore a pectoral muscle at the combine and could be a late-round pick.

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