NFL hopefuls mix it up in East-West Shrine Game
St. Petersburg, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - For one last time, hot commodities in college football, as well as top-notch performers who flew under the radar this past year, get another chance to showcase their talent in the 89th edition of the fabled East-West Shrine Game on Saturday afternoon.
For the most part, the outcome of this contest matters little, rather it is a chance for players to suit up one last time before moving on to the next stage of their lives. Or, in some cases, grab the attention of a scout, coach, or even a general manager from the pro level in order to sell themselves in a live atmosphere and leave a lasting impression with an active resume' builder.
The East side will be coached by Jerry Glanville who is known just as much for leaving tickets at will-call for Elvis Presley while coaching the Houston Oilers in the late 1980s, as he was for his 63-73 record as a pro coach and a mark of 9-24 at the college level. The most recent job on the sidelines for the 72-year old was with Portland State between 2007-09.
Matching wits with Glanville will be Romeo Crennel, the former head coach of both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns. Crennel, who has a career coaching record of just 28-55, was on the short list for a number of openings in the NFL recently, but for now his main concern is getting the West players into shape for their close ups.
In terms of a history in this event, the West side has won the last two battles, both played at Tropicana Field in Tampa, which means that squad now leads the all-time series by a count of 47-36-5 dating back to the event's inception at Ewing Field in 1925 when the West posted a 6-0 win.
As is the case with any other football game, it is the skill positions that garner most of the attention, and for observers who are not critiquing the footwork of an interior lineman or the strength of a defensive tackle, that is the focus for the casual fan in this contest as well, whether the individual is a household name such as Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch for the East, or Tommy Rees of Notre Dame for the West.
Lynch, the first Heisman finalist in the history of NIU football, finished third in the voting this year, a couple weeks before he and his team lost to Utah State, 21-14, in the Poinsettia Bowl. One of the top offensive performers in all of college football in 2013, Lynch generated 351.0 ypg as he gained 1,881 yards on the ground and became just the fifth player in NCAA history to both run and pass for 20 touchdowns in a single season. More inclined to exploit defenses with his feet, Lynch twice set the NCAA record for rushing by a quarterback in a game, producing 316 yards versus Central Michigan and 321 against Western Michigan.
The winner of the Walter Payton Award, presented by The Sports Network to the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision, Eastern Illinois signal caller Jimmy Garoppolo will also vie for playing time under center for the East. Ranked first in the FCS in passing yards (4,489), passing yards per game (374.1) and touchdown passes (48), Garoppolo brings to mind the exploits of another former EIU passer, Tony Romo.
Also seeking to make a big impression on a larger stage is running back Zach Bauman, who finished his career with Northern Arizona as the program's all- time leading rusher. This past season, Bauman gained 1,456 yards on 270 carries and finished with 1,764 all-purpose yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns.
At the wide receiver position, there is a wealth of known talent in Michigan's Jeremy Gallon and Ja'mes Logan of Ole Miss, although one of the more unusual selections has to be Patrick Laird of Army. Known for running the ball almost exclusively, the Black Knights were one of the weakest passing teams in the country with just 78.0 ypg, yet Laird is in Florida to represent the Academy after catching a grand total of three passes for 28 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.
Shining a light on some of the lesser-known players on the defensive side of the ball for the East, keep an eye on Pierre Desir of Division II's Lindenwood after he earned All-America honors for the third season, In 12 games during the 2012 campaign, the cornerback was one of the premier cover men in college football with nine interceptions.
Cal Poly linebacker Johnny Millard, defensive linemen Kerry Wynn of Richmond and Zachariah Kerr of Delaware are also representing the proverbial "little guy" in this big-time event.
When on the field, Millard, Wynn and Kerr will be keeping an eye on one of three quarterbacks from the West in Rees, Keith Wenning of Ball State and Keith Price of Washington.
In the case of Rees, who wasn't even supposed to be the starter for the Fighting Irish this season before Everett Golson was suspended, he wrapped up his career at Notre Dame by taking down Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, throwing for 319 yards and no interceptions. Sporting an efficiency rating of 135.4, Rees completed his final campaign with 27 touchdowns and more than 3,200 yards through the air.
Wenning, a finalist for the 2013 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, completed his career with the Cardinals with school career records for touchdown passes (91), passing yards (11,187), pass completions (1,012) and pass attempts (1,598). The quarterback, while not quite as active a runner as Lynch for NIU, he did score 13 TDs on the ground during his time at Ball State.
The receiving corps for the West is an interesting mix, led by San Jose State's Chandler Jones who logged 79 receptions for 1,356 yards and a single- season school record 15 touchdowns in 2013. Toledo's Bernard Reedy led his team in catches (62), yards (840) and TDs (eight), while Quincy Enunwa turned his 51 grabs for the Nebraska Cornhuskers into 753 yards and 12 scores.
One of those lesser-known performers hoping to make a name for himself this weekend is Seantavius Jones, a receiver from Valdosta State who tallied 55 catches for 777 yards and 13 TDs in 10 games. Also in that category is Pittsburg State's John Brown, a native of Florida who generated 1,198 yards and landed in the end zone 14 times on 61 catches for the Gorillas.
For the defense, someone like North Dakota State's Marcus Williams could use this experience to springboard to the professional level. The cornerback is one of the more decorated performers to come out of that program, having been named to the All-America First Team by The Sports Network, as well as on the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award previously.
Giving the game an international flavor is defensive lineman Evan Gill, who is bringing his passport from Canada's University of Manitoba. The Winnipeg native was a 2013 Canada West All-Star for the first time after finishing the campaign with 28.5 total tackles, of which more than one-fourth took place behind the line of scrimmage.
01/17 13:49:42 ET