NFLPA Collegiate Bowl News and Notes

NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
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All-star games are generally low on drama. But the 10th annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl Saturday night was no ordinary all-star game. The National team beat the American team 25-24. But that has little meaning if you don’t know the players and who did what. So, we have Collegiate Bowl news and notes to give you what actually happened.

The drama came organically as the American team, coached by Jeff Fisher, held a 14-3 lead at halftime. The National team, coached by Marvin Lewis, outscored them 22-10 in the second half. Still, the American team had a chance in the closing seconds. But Illinois’ James McCourt missed a 46-yard field goal in the closing seconds.

Into The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Spotlight

The MVP of the game was National quarterback Cole Kelley from Southeastern Louisiana. He went 11of 16 for 103 yards, including a 23-yard completion. Getting exposure and a week of work with NFL coaches for players like Kelley who might otherwise be under the radar is exactly what the game was built to do. Quarterback Brandon Peters of Illinois also had a good game for the National team, going five of 10 for 101 yards and a touchdown.

For the American team, Cal’s Chase Garbers was 10-13 for 119 yards and a touchdown. Aqeel Glass from Alabama A&M was nine of 11 for 141 yards and a touchdown. The benefactor of the quarterback work was Dai’Jean Dixon from Nicholls State. He had six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown and made some NFL caliber catches. If that field goal goes through at the end, Dixon is probably the game MVP.

Unorthodox For Sure

In a play that typified just how nutty all-star games can be, Garbers completed a pass to his college teammate, Cal’s Jake Tonges. The tight end was hit by Cal linebacker Cameron Goode, playing for the other team, and Tonges fumbled the ball away.

The American team had 129 yards rushing, led by Toledo’s Bryant Koback. He had 14 carries for 63 yards. The National team had only 67 yards rushing. Go through the stat lines and it is hard to believe the National team actually won. But they took better advantage of their opportunities in the second half.

After the game Kelley reveled not only in being chosen as the MVP, but in the entire week of preparation and practice under the tutelage of NFL coaches. “It was all football all the time,” Kelley said. “I do think this was more NFL-type themed. It was a fun week.” It also did not escape notice that with players from the big brand schools like Notre Dame, Penn State, USC, UCLA, Ole Miss, and more, that an FCS player was the game’s most valuable player. “It’s not that big of a drop off [from the FBS to the FCS],” Kelley said. “The speed of the game is still the same. You’ve got ballers all over the field.”

Coaching Looking To Elevate Players To The Next Level

Lewis concurred that the game is tailor made for players who otherwise do not get the national attention. “It is a great opportunity for them to come and prove that they have the ability to play at the NFL level,” Lewis said. “Where you end up in school sometimes is not your choosing. It’s just the way it is. But when you move to the next level, everybody is the same. So, it’s a great opportunity to prove they belong at that level and continue to grow and get better.” Lewis said these showcases focus less on who the player or the team are playing and more on how they play.

Kelley said the short turnaround on game prep with all new players was part of the enjoyment of the week. “Anybody can go and game plan for all year long on their team and stuff. But to go and get a playbook in one week with guys from all over the country and put it in and get everybody on the same page is fun. I really enjoyed this week.”

Lewis said he is sold on coaching these types of games. “That’s why you say yes when you get the call. It’s the opportunity to help impact them,” Lewis said. “We’re trying to teach these guys how when they get the opportunity to stay there. They are going to get there but hopefully we can impact them on their ability to stay in the NFL.”

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