Danny Pinter: Path to the NFL Draft

From the backyard in South Bend, through multiple position changes in high school and college, Danny Pinter hasn’t had the most direct route to the NFL. His combination of work ethic, versatility, and athleticism has attracted attention. After crushing the NFL Combine, that attention has become interest and he’s put himself in position to become the first Ball State offensive lineman to be drafted to the NFL since 2009.

“It certainly helped me to be trending up coming out of that. It would mean everything to me. It’s certainly been everything I’ve been working for for a long time. Just to have that opportunity would be a really cool moment for myself, for my family, my school, and everybody that has helped me to get to this point.”

The Path to The NFL Draft begins in Indiana

It’s been a remarkable path to the NFL Draft for Danny Pinter. His football journey that started in South Bend, Indiana where a love for the game was born in the backyard and with some high-profile local football.

“Before I was even playing organised football, started off in the backyard with friends, doing that type of stuff. That’s when I first fell in love with playing. When I got to fifth grade, that’s when I knew that was what I wanted to do for as long as I could. At the same time, growing up in South Bend, Notre Dame football is a big thing. Going to those games and going to some Chicago Bears games. I went to the Bears and Packers at Lambeau Field as my first game. All that stuff combined made me love the game.”

His love for the game was nurtured by a supportive family unit, that continued through high school and into his college football career.

“They’ve been huge. My parents, my sister, my brother. I played high school football right next to my brother. I was a tackle and he was a tight end. My sister goes to my school and I don’t think any of them have missed a game since I’ve been at Ball State whether it was home or away. Their overall support for me, they’ve been awesome. They’ve helped me get to this point.”

Danny Pinter contributes to success at John Adams High School

Alongside his brother, Danny Pinter played high school football for John Adams High School in South Bend. Although Indiana is more famous for high school basketball than for football, he found an environment where a competitive nature could be formed alongside creating bonds that are an essential ingredient for footballing success.

“The biggest thing in Indiana is basketball. They love high school basketball which I also played, which was cool. Being in South Bend, they have a lot of different high schools. There was good competition every time you played football. During the summer, we’d get together, just on our own and play against other schools. The competition was definitely big, and you had a good bond with your teammates from doing all that. I had a good time. It was a lot of fun. Indiana is kinda underrated for football, but I think it’s a really good state for it.”

Although Indiana high school was more famous for its basketball, Danny Pinter found success on the football field. He was named to the All-Northern Indiana Conference and Indiana Football Coaches Association All-State team as a senior. Despite the individual accolades, it was the team’s performance during his sophomore year, their winningest season in 50 years, that meant the most.

“That was kind of a turning point for our school. Historically we hadn’t had a great record. Just the bond that we had as a team was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. There really is nothing like high school football, especially that year. There was something special. It was cool to see the whole community come behind us. I still talk about those guys from that team. We were such a close-knit team.”

A chip on the shoulder for Danny Pinter

Danny Pinter
Photo Credit: John Adams High School

His time at John Adams helped Danny Pinter showcase the versatility and athleticism that would come to be the hallmark of his game. He lined up as a tackle and a tight end for the offense, but also racked up some impressive numbers on defense too. Over his career there he had 138 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and also blocked four kicks.

“So, Ball State, their first type of offer to me was to walk on as a defensive end. I knew I wanted to play offense and wanted a scholarship. I actually committed to Grand Valley State as a tight end on a scholarship. Then Ball State came in right at the end to offer me a scholarship to play offense. I loved playing defense and it was definitely something that some schools considered for me.”

Although he had offers from Ball State and Grand Valley State, Danny Pinter wasn’t heavily recruited. He used that as motivation to work hard and prove people wrong.

“Going into my senior year that summer I was working and using every penny I earned to go to camps and just try and get noticed. I did a lot of blocking as a tight end, so I think I was under-seen in terms of having the receiving accolades and all that stuff. Which was fine. It was what the team needed so it was what I wanted to do. I didn’t have crazy stats, and I was a little slow. It certainly put a chip on my shoulder, just to prove myself. Especially when I got to the college level, to show I could compete at that level and be successful at that level too.”

From redshirt to redzone at Ball State

Before he could get on the field and prove he could compete at that level, Danny Pinter took a redshirt year. Like most players that are away from the sport they love, it was hard. However, he also saw the opportunity to grow in that year.

“It’s a year of maturity that you get. You really learn, from watching the older guys, how to handle yourself at this level and how to go about becoming a great player. Then at the same time you’re developing physically and developing mentally on the field. I think it was a great year for me. I learned a lot and came a long way in that year.”

Danny Pinter had come to Ball State to play offense and in 2016 he got his opportunity, making five starts at the tight end position. As in his time at John Adams, he didn’t rack up gaudy receiving statistics but contributed with his blocking skills. In 2017, he would secure his first college football touchdown against UAB.

“It was kind of a surreal moment in some ways. We called the play, it was stick nod, and I knew there was a good chance for it to be a touchdown. When I broke free, I knew it was going to be there. It was a really cool moment and it was a really good win for us. It was a big game, UAB was really good that year.”

Danny Pinter develops during a tough time

2017 summed up the potential highs and lows of football for Danny Pinter. After scoring the touchdown against UAB he was riding high. Unfortunately, he would experience the lows not long after, suffering a season ending injury against Central Michigan.

“It was really tough. I definitely went through a hard time mentally processing that. It was the first time that I’d ever been hurt. To have the game taken away from you for a period of time when it’s unexpected is really hard. I love the game. It’s hard to be on the sideline watching your teammates out there and not being able to be out there and do your part to help the team. It was a year that we were going through some learning curves as a team. It was important for me to remind myself that I still had a role as a leader. That just had to be more vocally as oppose to being on the field. It was a process that was tough, but I learned a ton from it, as a person and a player.”

From tight end to offensive tackle

If Ball State were going through some learning curves as a team, in 2018 Danny Pinter would find himself on a learning curve. He maintained his role as a leader, but his on field role would change from tight end to offensive tackle.

“It was something that was sorta joked about with me before. That year in 2017, before I got hurt, we were really thin on the o-line with a lot of injuries. I was starting at tight end but also serving as the emergency tackle. So, I was taking some reps in practice. My offensive line coach and tight ends coach approached me at the end of the season and said that they needed a tackle for the team, it would be in the best interest of the team if I was the guy to make that switch and try that. I fully embraced it. I wanted to do whatever I needed to do to help the team.”

Physical and technical changes for Danny Pinter

Although he’d got some experience of playing tackle in high school, the transition to playing tackle at the college football level would involve some serious physical and technical changes.

“All in all, during the process, I put on around 50-55 pounds! That was a process for sure. My strength coach, who served as our dietician too, was huge in that. He gave me a really clear-cut diet that I had to stick to it and be pretty religious about it. There’s times you don’t want to eat! That coupled with the strength, from the weight program we have there, was a big part of it in terms of physically.”

“Technically, there were certainly some parts I’d never done before so they were unnatural. That spring ball I think I learned a ton. There were times when I was stressed out with it but things like pass pro, using your hands in pass pro, all just little techniques that you don’t realise how technical they are until you start doing it. I still feel like I’m learning something new everyday which is why I think my potential is pretty high.”

Facing off against the Fighting Irish

Photo Credit: Angelo Di Carlo (Twitter)

Although Danny Pinter feels that his work ethic and will to succeed means he could have been a successful tight end, there’s no doubting that the switch to offensive tackle has had an impact on the direction of his football journey. After 11 starts over his first two seasons, he started every game in 2018, including a special opportunity to face off against the team that had helped grow his love for the game.

“That was awesome. I’d known about it since my senior year in high school. After I committed to Ball State they announced it was on the schedule. It was something that I had a lot of anticipation building up to. To be able to be out there, it was kind of a surreal moment in some ways. It’s still a game I get nightmares about because I went in wanting to win, really bad. We all did. We took them down to the wire and you look back and there was a couple of plays here and there where you think, maybe we could have pulled that upset off.”

Danny Pinter gets his big man touchdown

One of those plays involved Danny Pinter almost scoring his second college football touchdown. Although it wasn’t to be, he would get the opportunity again in 2019 against the team that his season had prematurely ended against in 2017.

“My coaches had told me that they were going to try and get that play in for me, to try and get another touchdown since it had been a while. It was something we had in the playbook for a couple of weeks at that point, we just hadn’t had the chance to call it. When they called it, we had a really good idea that it was going to work. I caught the ball, saw my three guys block the only guy that was left there and it was really cool. As an offensive line group, we’d been waiting for to happen, so it was cool to have that moment with my offensive line buddies.”

Danny Pinter
Photo Credit: John Huffer

Changing the culture for the Cardinals

2019 was a ground-breaking year for Danny Pinter and the Ball State Cardinals. His performances on the field were recognised with a nomination to the All-MAC First Team and received the Ball State Cardinals Most Outstanding Player Award. The program notched up five wins for the first time in his time there.

“When I first got there, I and my class of seniors that graduated this year, we kind of came into a culture that wasn’t great. There were some guys who were a little too used to losing and being ok with that. It was something that we really put on our shoulders to change by the time we left there.”

“There were some tough times, like that year in 2017, a lot of tough times where we stuck at it and persevered through. This year, the wins and losses weren’t where we wanted to be but I think in total we were about 8 points away from playing for the conference championship and we won some games that we wouldn’t have won back in 2017. The culture there is just completely different. I’m most proud of that we laid a platform for success that Ball State can, and will, build off of in the future.”

Danny Pinter gets an NFLPA Bowl invite

The successful transition to tackle for Danny Pinter didn’t go unnoticed as he prepared to take his next step in his football journey. He was invited to the NFLPA Bowl at the Rose Bowl, one of college football’s premier All-Star games where he continued to make an impression.

“I learned a ton, which was awesome. It was my main goal to go there and come out of it as a better football player, which I know I did. It was a really cool experience, all in all. Hearing from former NFL guys, guys that are in the NFL now, hearing their experiences, their tips. And then, being out there and playing against really good competition.”

“Certainly you had to raise your game and I think I got a lot better from that. It’s really important to be able to go out there and play against the big school guys, go out there and compete with them. Things like one on ones, to be able to go out and beat them to show that there’s not that big of a gap that people associate with those power 5 conferences versus non-power 5. It was a really good chance to go out and compete against bigger schools and show what you can do.”

Draft stock soars after crushing the combine

Danny Pinter
Photo Credit:AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Although his time at Ball State and performance at the NFLPA Bowl had earned Danny Pinter some attention, it was his showing at the NFL Combine that has really seen his NFL Draft stock soar. After posting leading times for the 40-yard dash, short shuttle, and 3-cone drill, he looked impressive in the on-field drills. It was an all-round performance that saw him voted to the All-Combine Team.

“I was just trying to take it a day at a time and try and do my best every single day. I learned a ton in the meetings. It was really cool to talk to coaches that are actually in the NFL. I think that was one of my favourite parts of the week, just talking football with those guys. Then the combine itself, I felt well prepared. The place I trained, EXOS out in Phoenix, they had me really well prepared. So, it was just a case of going out and doing it. It was cool, like we said about the NFLPA game, to go out there and compete against some guys from some bigger schools who people might put over you just because of where you’re from.”

Bench pressing for Muncie Boys and Girls Club

As well as being a chance to compete, it was also a chance to give back to the community that helped get Danny Pinter to this point. Every bench press he did at the NFL Combine raised some money for a cause close to his heart, Muncie Boys and Girls Club.

“We had a lot of opportunity to volunteer through Ball State football. It’s one of the big things our coaches emphasise. So, when I was thinking about who I wanted to pick for that, those were some of the coolest experiences I had through volunteering. Being able to go and hang out with those kids, see what their lives are like, and see how passionate they are about what they do. That really impacted me when I was there, and I know it impacted some of my teammates who got to meet those kids. It was a really cool chance to give back to them. Last I checked we were over $2000.”

From tackle to guard to center.

From a positional perspective, the NFL Combine also showcased a trait that will make Danny Pinter a valuable commodity as an offensive lineman in the NFL. Versatility. There is an ever-growing trend to take college tackles and move them inside at the next level.

“That’s something I fully embrace if that’s what it needs to be. I know several of the teams that I’ve talked to have told me that they see me as either a guard of a center. That’s something I’ve been working on, just to be as versatile as I can. I feel I can play any of the five positions. I played center at the combine, guard at the NFLPA game and tackle at Ball State.”

How difficult is it to much that switch inside? What are the technical differences?

“The number one difference is, the further you move inside, the quicker things happen. Just because it’s a lot more up close. Then different style of players you’re playing against. Usually, bigger guys who might not be as fast but have a lot more power. A position like center, you have a lot more responsibility to make calls on the defense, make calls for your offensive line, you’ve got to be mentally on your game.”

Versatility. Athleticism. Physicality.

It’s just one month to the start of the NFL Draft. Throughout his football journey so far, Danny Pinter has demonstrated at every turn the versatility, athleticism, and physical presence that will enable him to succeed at the next level. All of these things are possible due to the one element that has been instilled in him from the beginning.

“Work ethic. That’s what got me to this point. I challenge myself to have the highest work ethic of anyone on my team, or anyone I’m around. That’s what I plan on doing [in the NFL].”

He’s demonstrated those traits, put in the hard work, and proven he can compete with the best players in the country. Now, Danny Pinter is just waiting for the phone to ring.

“I just want a chance to play. Whatever team is going to come for me, that’s the biggest thing for me is a chance to play. I’m excited for whatever team that might be.”

OLIVER HODGKINSON

COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER

OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.

Feature Image Credit: Ball State Athletics

Huge thanks to Danny Pinter for taking the time to speak to us. Also to Maggie Lyon at Priority Sports for connecting us.