TAMPA, Fla. — Jesse Luketa had just played his last game for Penn State, though he didn't let it slip afterward. But James Franklin basically did.
"I'm a huge Jesse Luketa fan," Franklin said after Saturday's Outback Bowl. "I will pound the table for him with every single NFL team, GM, coaches. The guy is a football player."
Luketa made it official after the game, releasing a statement on social media that he will enter the 2022 NFL Draft. Though Luketa could have returned to Penn State next season, he opted to take his shot at the NFL, even though his future position remains in question.
A former starting linebacker at Penn State, Luketa shifted to defensive end this season, where he made a significant impact. But when the Lions needed a linebacker to fill gaps, particularly in the Outback Bowl against Arkansas, they turned to Luketa.
The redshirt senior played a strong game against Arkansas, making nine tackles, including one for loss. He could have opted out of the bowl game, like six of his teammates, but chose to play for a defense that needed him. That won him more of Franklin's respect.
"I'm proud of him," Franklin said. "He's smart, he's physical, does a lot of different things. Obviously, with our linebacker situation, that was something that was going to have to happen. He embraced it. I thought he played his tail off."
Luketa did not discuss his decision after the game, choosing instead to release the statement later. But everyone knew. Even his best friend Micah Parsons texted to say congratulations.
"He’s a guy that’s going to give you every single thing every single day," defensive end Nick Tarburton said. "Whatever you need, you go to him. He’s an awesome guy, an awesome player, but an even better person."
NFL Draft Bible ranks Luketa as the No. 14 linebacker in the 2022 class, citing his size (6-3, 245 pounds) and versatility as desirable traits. That he has experience at a variety of positions makes him more draftable. It's just a matter of finding the right spot.
"Currently a rosterable backup, Jesse Luketa has NFL starting potential," NFL Draft Bible writes. "An excellent mover for his size, he is instinctive against the run and has flashed in man and zone coverage. The linebacker is a strong tackler. Nonetheless, he has concerning play strength to disengage from blockers once they latch on and struggles to process in coverage. He offers immediate special teams value."
Luketa brings a terrific story to the NFL as well, one of a young player from Canada who took a chance on playing American football in the U.S. He served as a game captain three times, including in the Outback Bowl, was named All-Big Ten player and became one of the roster's most influential voices.
Luketa left with some advice for the young players.
"Just be hungry," he said. "Stay humble. And lead. Try to outdo all the ones who came before you."