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Garrett Sickels sets bar high at combine for Reps for Research

Penn State defensive end Garrett Sickels (90), right,

Penn State defensive end Garrett Sickels (90), right, chases after Massachusetts wide receiver Marken Michel (10) NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, in State College, Pa. Penn State won 48-7. Credit: AP / Keith Srakocic

When defensive linemen do the bench press next week at the NFL Combine, they’ll be working out in front of hundreds of scouts and executives for the same thing: a spot on an NFL roster.

When it’s Garrett Sickels’ turn on the bench, there’ll be even more at stake.

The former Penn State defensive end is using his bench press workout at the combine March 4 to raise money for rare disease research as part of Uplifting Athletes’ Reps for Research.

Sickels’ goal is to raise $5,000 — $250 per 225-pound rep, based on Sickels’ 20-rep estimate — by the time he lies down on the bench to start. As of Friday night, 47 people had pledged on Sickels’ Pledgeit website to donate a combined total of $207.65 per rep.

“[Former Penn State receiver and Uplifting Athletes founder Scott Shirley] approached me and asked if I wanted to do the campaign at the combine, and I said, ‘Absolutely,’ ” Sickels told Newsday on Friday night via phone from California just after completing a workout. “Everything pretty much followed from there.”

Sickels, a Red Bank, New Jersey native, was on the leadership team with the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes during his three years in State College. He also participated in a program called Lift for Life every summer, a teamwide event to help raise money, and worked with college football players from other schools to help raise money.

Several combine attendees have participated in Reps for Research in recent seasons, including two of Sickels’ former college teammates: Steelers tight end Jesse James and Lions defensive end Anthony Zettel.

“It’s been such a big part of my life at Penn State,” Sickels said of the charity.

Justin Ernest set the combine bench press record in 1999 when he completed 51 reps. Sickels knows it’ll be tough to get to that mark, but he’s going to keep it simple.

“My goal is a minimum of 20 reps,” he said, “and just keep going from there, keep cranking out some reps and trying to raise as much money as possible.”

Of course, there’s more than fundraising at stake for Sickels. The two-year starter and All-Big Ten selection is hoping to become the latest in a long line of Penn State defensive linemen to be drafted. The Nittany Lions had three drafted last year alone — Zettel, Carl Nassib of the Browns and Austin Johnson of the Titans — and Sickels credits them with helping him become a better player.

“They really made me push myself to be one of the four guys, and not to be ‘the other guy’ with those three,” he said. “I real ly wanted to make a name for myself playing with those guys.”

The 6-4, 260-pound Sickels, who had 11 1⁄2 sacks and 21 1⁄2 tackles for loss in 33 games, is projected to be a later-round pick, but he hopes a strong combine showing will help him get on NFL teams’ radars.

“It’s an opportunity to make a great first impression and perform at my very best and set some great times for myself and just get to know some teams and establish some relationships,” he said.

And to make those extra few reps really count.

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