Some of the greatest stars of the National Football League first caught the attention of scouts during the Reese’s Senior Bowl. From Joe Namath and Bo Jackson to Bubba Smith and Ray Nitschke, the all-star contests have displayed the best of the best.
With this wealth of talent, the competition has been a popular attraction for fans who want to see tomorrow’s stars today. And often in attendance are youngsters who can picture themselves taking the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium someday.
When the 69th edition kicks off Saturday, it will mark a homecoming for five gridiron stars hailing from the Alabama Gulf Coast. Also joining them will be a former member of the University of South Alabama program.
“Our Gulf Coast region is a hotbed for high school football,” Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage told Lagniappe. “We do pay attention to players who leave here and others who stay. It is important to monitor and track them.
“It is a reward to come back home and play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl. To have these six players is a tribute to the quality of football played in this area. It is also fun to have these guys back.”
• Cornerback Jamarcus King was mentioned in a previous column that discussed the group of area players who saw action at the University of South Carolina. A Blount High graduate, King led the Gamecocks with 12 pass breakups and two interceptions in 2017.
• Myles Pierce is a linebacker who played at The Citadel. The Daphne native led the South Carolina club with 91 tackles — 13 for loss — and six sacks.
• USA safety Jeremy Reaves grew up just down the road where he prepped at Pensacola Catholic High School. This year, Reaves was the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, leading the Jaguars with 104 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. He was a first-team all-conference pick as a junior at cornerback and again this year at safety.
• Quarterback Brandon Silvers from Troy was the most valuable player of the New Orleans Bowl as he threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns. The Gulf Shores High grad and Orange Beach native finished his career with 10,436 yards and 69 touchdowns.
• Ito Smith rushed for 1,391 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall for the University of Southern Mississippi. A graduate of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, he finished his high school career with more than 4,000 yards rushing.
• A former prep All-American at St. Paul’s Episcopal High School, Tre’ Williams is a star at linebacker from Auburn. He recorded 46 tackles and 2.5 sacks this season despite missing two games and leaving early in three others because of injuries.
The Houston Texans and Denver Broncos have been selected to coach the Reese’s Senior Bowl. The opportunity to see the players one-on-one for a week can make or break opportunities when the NFL Draft rolls around.
The Texans, led by their fourth-year head coach Bill O’Brien, will guide the South team. Vance Joseph, in his first year as head coach of the Broncos, will lead the North.
Houston has coached in the Senior Bowl one previous time, in 2003 under Dom Capers. It finished the 2017 season with a record of 4-12 and would have picked fourth in this year’s draft, but that pick was traded to the Browns.
Denver was 5-11 this season and will pick fifth in the draft. The Broncos have coached in the Reese’s Senior Bowl six times, going 2-2-2 in those games.
• Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has accepted his invitation to the game. He is the first Heisman Trophy winner to play in Mobile since Tim Tebow in 2007 and the fourth overall in the past 15 years (Troy Smith, 2006; Carson Palmer, 2002).
“Baker is known for his competitive personality, so it’s not a surprise that he would want to be in Mobile to showcase his abilities and leadership qualities,” Savage said. “And it’s exciting for the Reese’s Senior Bowl to have a Heisman Trophy winner in our game.”
• The FCA Chick-fil-A Senior Bowl Rally is Wednesday, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Mobile Convention Center. More than 2,000 are expected to attend. For information, visit www.SouthAlabamaFCA.org.
• One of the highlights this week is the Coca Cola Meet the Players event on Friday. Fans can interact, get an autograph and snap a picture with their favorite player at the Exhibit Hall of the Mobile Convention Center. The event is divided into two sessions, the first 3:30-4:45 p.m. and the second 4:45-6 p.m. More information on the sessions, including when specific players will be attending, will be available at www.SeniorBowl.com on Thursday.
• Also at the Convention Center on Friday will be the Reese’s Senior Bowl Experience. From 3-6 p.m., football fans can enjoy interactive displays, run through drills on the indoor field and enjoy other special activities. Admission is free.
• On game day from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. is the Piggly Wiggly Tailgate Party in the stadium’s East Parking Lot. Admission is limited to the first 3,500 fans who purchased a sideline seat to the game. In addition to free food and drinks, partygoers will enjoy inflatable activities, face painters, clowns and the Coca-Cola Family Festival game trailer.
• The Baumhower’s Tailgate Challenge is back. The grand prize package worth $3,000 includes an all-terrain portable grill, satellite TV tailgate bundle, outdoor chairs and more. The winner will be presented with a trophy during the game.
• Reese’s has signed a three-year extension to remain the title sponsor. Reese’s is also teaming up with Feeding the Gulf Coast, a local food bank. Fans who bring three non-perishable food items to the official Tailgate Party will receive a Reese’s T-shirt.
• The “clear bag” policy introduced last season will be enforced once again at both the game and the Senior Bowl Experience. For details on what is allowed, visit www.seniorbowl.com/clear-bag-policy.php.
• Both the NFL Network and ESPN will televise the practices during the week, and NFL Network will carry the game live on Saturday. All practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium are open to the public.
• Tickets are available at the Senior Bowl office at 151 Dauphin St. Prices are $10 for end zone general admission, $20 sideline from the 10-yard line to the end zone and $30 sideline between the 10-yard lines. For more information, call 251-432-4109.