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‘Chess Piece’ Jesse Luketa Ready to Show Off Versatility During, After NFL Combine

Photo by Penn State Athletics

Jesse Luketa describes himself as a “chess piece.”

Versatility is a fine thing for a football player to have, and Luketa has plenty of it.

Luketa played linebacker through his first three seasons at Penn State. Then, in 2021, he made the switch to defensive end and more than held his own in coordinator Brent Pry’s 4-3 scheme.

Although he’s grown comfortable playing on the edge, Luketa could be going back to linebacker if and when he makes it to the NFL. ESPN’s draft guru Todd McShay has the Ottawa, Ontario, native as the ninth-ranked outside linebacker prospect in this year’s NFL draft. Luketa himself feels the best way for a pro team to maximize his talents would be to use him at outside linebacker.

Luketa has talked with teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers over this past week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, and he said teams are comfortable with him at both positions.

“They’ve been asking me where I feel the most comfortable,” Luketa told reporters at the combine Friday morning. “Like I said, I’m a defender. The goal for me is to be the most disruptive defender on the field. I’m comfortable playing the defensive end position, linebacker. Whether it’s inside or outside, it doesn’t matter. They’ll get a football player picking me.”

Luketa has done a lot to up his draft stalk since playing his last college game at the Outback Bowl in Tampa New Year’s Day. At the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, Luketa impressed at practices throughout the week and put an exclamation point on the experience with two sacks in the game Feb. 5.

Luketa feels that the trip to Alabama “skyrocketed” his draft projection.

“I was able to truly put my skillsets on full display of who I am as a person on the field as well as off the field (with) interviews,” Luketa said. “Ultimately, (it) put myself in a better situation.”

So who is Jesse Luketa the person? He says he’s a man who possesses a high motor and high, contagious energy.

“Those who know me know my energy’s infectious,” Luketa said. “I come off as a leader. You’re going to hear me; you’re going to feel me whether you like it or even if you don’t.”

Luketa said the last part of that quote with a smile on his face that those who have been around him enough have grown accustomed to seeing.

Judging by that smile, one wouldn’t guess that Luketa grew up the youngest of eight siblings with a mother, Rose, who had to escape the war-torn Republic of Congo and landed in Canada.
“My ‘why’ is my mom,” Luketa said.

Luketa’s had good influences on the football field as well. He was teammates with Micah Parsons in 2018 and ’19, and Parsons has already become one of the NFL’s best defenders after just one season with the Dallas Cowboys.

As Luketa gets closer and closer to playing in the NFL, Parsons has helped guide his friend and former teammate.

“He’s been in my ear,” Luketa said, “being able to let me know what he feels like I need to put on full display, what I need to continue to work at and dominate.”

One of the things that’s made Parsons the player he’s become is his ability to rush the quarterback, drop the running back for a loss or play in pass coverage. Although he won’t be a first-round pick like Parsons was and likely won’t make the same instant impact, Luketa hopes that his “Swiss Army Knife” style will carry over to the National Football League.

“Schematically, it’s hard to game plan with a player who’s as versatile and can do so many things in that nature,” Luketa said. “I just feel that’s the way the game’s trending. You want a player that’s able to do a multitude of things. That’s what you’re getting in Jesse Luketa.”

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