Even with the growing presence of the NFL Scouting Combine and the numerous college pro days, the impact of an appearance in the Senior Bowl remains impressive. Of the 110 players in last year’s game, 87 were drafted while 15 more signed free agent contracts.
This might well be the case again on Saturday when the 68th annual all-star game is played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
“This is the ultimate job fair for college football players,” Executive Director Phil Savage told local media. “You compete against the best on the field, and then you meet with the scouts off the field.
“You really don’t know what impact one simple discussion can have on your future. In four years, that scout might be a head coach or general manager who will remember your talk back at the Senior Bowl.”
Savage and his staff study college athletes throughout the United States in preparing the rosters each year. While many participants come from the Power 5 conferences, stars from lesser-known programs can also earn admission.
“I love going to the small schools and finding that one guy who can compete with an SEC player,” Savage said. “This gives everyone a chance to go one-on-one with a coach and then sell their story.”
Last year, Carson Wentz was known only as the quarterback of powerhouse North Dakota State University. Following an impressive week in Mobile, he was the second player drafted and ended up as the starter in Philadelphia.
“Your college career has come to an end, and the pro game is so different,” Savage said. “The Senior Bowl is the first step for many to reach the next level. You just have to go out and prove yourself.”
Who to watch
One such player hoping to make a statement on the South roster is Antonio Pipken from Tiffin University. He is the third quarterback in NCAA Division II history to gain 2,000 yards rushing and 10,000 yards passing in a career.
“He could be the next one-in-a-million player,” Savage said. “He is a great athlete who also played basketball in college. A player like Antonio has a lot to gain here.”
The game will be a homecoming for Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson (above), who helped Daphne to a state championship in 2011. Although the Crimson Tide lost the national title game, he had a tremendous night against Clemson with 7 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 2 fumble recoveries. For the season, he had 16.5 tackles for loss, second in the SEC.
“He put together a really positive season,” Savage said of Anderson. “He had several big plays during Alabama’s playoff run.”
Savage mentioned several other players he’s eager to see at practice:
• Donnel Pumphrey of San Diego State — “Although he is just 5-[foot]-9 and 180, he plays big,” Savage said. Pumphrey became the all-time FBS rushing leader this year with 6,405 yards and led the nation with 2,133 yards rushing.
• O.J. Howard of Alabama — Savage said Howard could be the first tight end taken in the draft. “He has the size [6-foot-6, 250 pounds] and the versatility to play several positions.”
• Forrest Lamp of Western Kentucky — “He is athletic enough to play either offensive tackle or offensive guard.”
• Montravius Adams of Auburn — As a senior defensive tackle, he was second-team All-American. “He can really elevate his draft stock with a good week,” Savage said.
• Zay Jones of Louisiana Tech — “He had something like 158 catches this year, which led all FBS wide receivers.”
• Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington — “He is the all-time NCAA leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns. I saw him at the Manning Passing Academy, and he is something special.” The grandson of New Orleans Saints Hall of Famer Jake Kupp, he was the 2015 Walter Payton Award winner (the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy).
• Connor Harris of Lindenwood — The linebacker at the small Missouri school is the NCAA’s all-time leader, with 635 tackles, and the Cliff Harris Award winner for National Small College Defensive Player of the Year.
Senior Bowl notes
• The coaching staffs from Cleveland and Chicago have been selected to work the Senior Bowl. The Browns will oversee the South squad and the Bears the North team. “Both teams are picking very high in the NFL Draft,” Savage said. “They will be at the top of each round. Being here gives them an excellent chance to judge the players.”
• All practices will be held at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in the afternoons and broadcast by ESPNU and NFL Network. “Having all the practices in the afternoons makes it much more accommodating for the fans,” Savage said.
• The Senior Bowl has entered a multi-year agreement with Adidas to supply game uniforms and footwear. “We are very excited about the quality of the product,” Savage said. “Adidas is making inroads with the NFL, and this gives them a chance to show off their products to future NFL stars.”
• A new public-safety bag policy has gone into effect for fans. Bags carried into the stadium must be: clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and not exceed 12x12x6 inches; 1-gallon clear plastic freezer bags; or small clutch bags that do not exceed 4.5×6.5×2 inches (these may be carried along with one of the clear bag options).
• The Coca-Cola Meet the Players event is Friday, 3:30-6 p.m., at the Mobile Convention Center. Fans will get to interact with the players while getting autographs and pictures.
• The Reese’s Senior Bowl Experience will be Friday, 3-6 p.m., at the Mobile Convention Center, where fans can enjoy several interactive displays and special activities.
• The Food for Less Tailgate Party will be Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the East parking lot of Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Passes are limited to the first 3,500 fans to purchase a sideline seat to the game.
• Baumhower’s Tailgate Challenge will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon on game day. In this competition, which began in 2004, participants are judged on their combination of food, originality and presentation. The winner will be recognized during the first half.
• Tickets are on sale at the Senior Bowl offices at 151 Dauphin Street, by phone at 251-432-4109 or online at www.SeniorBowl.com. “The tickets are $30, $20 and $10,” Savage said. “This is the best bargain in football. During the season people were talking about all the pro prospects when Alabama and LSU played, but no game will have as many NFL players as the Senior Bowl.”