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NFL Gives Local Players A Look in Collegiate Bowl

Players from South Orange County are among those in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Saturday at the StubHub Center.


By City News Service


Several athletes from South Orange County will play another game in the Southland on Saturday when the third NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is played at the StubHub Center in Carson.

The game gives players who recently completed their college football careers an opportunity to showcase their talents to potential employers—those employers being the teams of the NFL.

The game has proven to be an effective resume builder for landing on an NFL roster. 

Among those who hope to make a strong impression are Hawaii quarterback Sean Schroeder of Dana Hills High, Arizona State offensive lineman Evan Finkelberg of Tesoro, and California kicker Vincenzo D'Amato of El Toro. 

In each of its first two years, 23 participants in the game have been on opening game rosters, according to Jilane Rodgers, a communications associate with the National Football League Players Association. She said the figure consists of active and inactive players, along with those on injured reserve and practice squads.

The teams began practicing Tuesday ad drew representatives from all 32 NFL teams, including seven general managers, 13 directors of player personnel and Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Six Canadian Football League teams also sent representatives, Rodgers said.

The NFLPA also conducts the game in an attempt to introduce its more than 100 players to the association and business of the NFL, said George Atallah, the assistant executive director of external affairs for the union representing the league's players.

"It's important for us to reach out to our future members," Atallah told City News Service.

In the week leading up to the game, the players attend presentations from current and former players, union officials and others on topics including life skills, money management, the business of football, media and personal security.

"For as much as the football aspect is appreciated, so is the coaching experience, so is the insight you gain from former players," Dayne Crist, a former Kansas quarterback from Sherman Oaks, said after being selected MVP in last year's game.

"In every meeting that I was in, regardless of whether it was football- related or talking about another topic, my pen didn't stop moving because everyone that spoke has done it the right way and I just wanted to mimic and emulate that."

The players are divided into National and American teams, like the NFL's conferences. Players were assigned to teams on the basis of competitive balance and perceived need, Rodgers said.

For the third consecutive year, the National team will be coached by Dick Vermeil, who guided the St. Louis Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV and coached the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.

The American team will be coached by Dennis Green, the former Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals coach.

"We invest a lot of time—under the direction of the players association—talking to them about things other than how they play the game," Vermeil told ESPN, which will show the game live on ESPN2 and online on WatchESPN.

"It's how they act as an NFL player, how they conduct themselves, how they make an NFL team, how they stay on an NFL team, how they live in the community, how they conduct themselves off the field."

The assistant coaches include two members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Darrell Green and Charlie Joiner, along with Will Shields, a Pro Bowl selection at guard for each of his final 12 seasons in the NFL (1995-2006), Andre Reed, a receiver selected to the Pro Bowl for seven consecutive seasons (1988-94), and Jim Hanifan, who coached the St. Louis Cardinals from 1980-85.

The game's most prominent players are Connor Shaw, the South Carolina quarterback who helped the Gamecocks to a No. 4 ranking both in the final USA Today Coaches' Poll and The Associated Press media poll and a victory in the Capital One Bowl, and James Franklin, who quarterbacked Missouri to No. 5 in both polls and a Cotton Bowl victory.

There are two players from UCLA in the game—defensive tackle Seali'i Epenesa and defensive end Keenan Graham—and one from USC, safety Demetrius Wright.

Other local prep players in the game include Stanford running back Anthony Wilkerson (Tustin), Arizona State tight end Chris Coyle (Oaks Christian), San Diego State fullback Chad Young (Glendora), and Morgan State offensive lineman Karim Barton (Verdugo Hills).   

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