Thousands of fans pack Ladd-Peebles Stadium each year for the Reese’s Senior Bowl, hoping to catch a glimpse of the next NFL superstar. And if they look a little harder, they might even see a few familiar faces on the sidelines this weekend.
Several who played their prep careers in Mobile County are taking part in the college all-star game. All are hoping to grab the attention of the many professional scouts who measure and weigh each move they make.
The player who most local fans will recognize is fullback Jay Prosch, who had a key role as a blocker for the powerful Auburn rushing attack. Prosch played his high school ball for UMS-Wright.
The biggest turnaround season may belong to Florida wide receiver Solomon Patton, a graduate of Murphy. After breaking his arm as a junior, Patton earned the Gators’ Most Valuable Player award after leading the team in receiving yards (556), catches (44) and touchdowns (six). He caught the Senior Bowl’s staff notice in a recent all-star game in Charleston, S.C., where he was named the MVP of his team after three catches for 50 yards and a reverse run for 33 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball is Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, who played at Davidson. A semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (signifying the nation’s best defensive back), Ward led his team in passes defended (14), interceptions (six) and tackles (77).
The homecoming could have been larger, but two all-stars from the University of Alabama will not be taking part in the game.
AJ McCarron, the Heisman Trophy runner-up who played at St. Paul’s, announced last week that he had turned down his Senior Bowl invitation.
“I really appreciate being invited to play in the Senior Bowl,” McCarron said to the media. “It is quite an honor and something I’ve dreamed about while growing up in the Mobile area. However, at this time, I’m putting all of my focus and energy into preparing for the NFL Combine, pro day and the rest of the pre-draft evaluation process. Therefore, I won’t be taking part in the Senior Bowl.”
McCarron’s father, Tony, said it was strictly a business decision and they are following the advice of his son’s agent. Among those helping McCarron prepare for the NFL Combine is local quarterback coach David Morris, who is featured in this issue of Lagniappe.
The remaining quarterbacks who are set to appear are Tajh Boyd of Clemson, Derek Carr of Fresno State, David Fales of San Jose State, Stephen Morris of Miami and Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech.
Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage also said it appeared first-team All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley of Theodore might skip the game. Mosley had previously accepted his invitation, but Savage said Mosley’s draft status is so high that any participation at the Mobile game would likely not improve it much. Just prior to press time, Mosley’s agent confirmed he was out.
That does not mean the rosters are not full of stars from across the nation. Two All-Americans lead the way.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald of Pitt was the defensive player of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Among his many post-season honors are the Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik trophies. Donald led the nation with 26.5 tackles for lost yardage.
Offensive guard Cyril Richardson of Baylor was a key factor in the Bears’ high-scoring attack. He was a finalist for the Outland Trophy and was named offensive lineman of the year in the Big 12 Conference.
Among the most honored players scheduled to appear are Mississippi State offensive guard Gabe Jackson, Michigan State defensive back Darqueze Dennard, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett.
In addition to Prosch, other members representing SEC champion Auburn are defensive back Chris Davis (who returned the decisive missed kick in the Iron Bowl), defensive end Dee Ford and place kicker Cody Parkey. For the Crimson Tide, there will be punter Cody Mandell, wide receiver Kevin Norwood, defensive end Ed Stinson and linebacker Adrian Hubbard.
The coaching staffs of the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars will oversee the players. The Falcons have worked with the Senior Bowl in 1967 and 1978, and will direct the North team. The Jaguars’ staff, which coached in 2009, will manage the South squad.
Fans will need to mark their calendar for Friday, Jan. 24. The Senior Bowl Experience takes place from 1:30 to 7 p.m. at the Mobile Convention Center, and will include many interactive displays and special activities. The Meet the Players event will be from 3 to 6 p.m, with the squads divided into two 90-minute segments.
On Saturday, the Tailgate Challenge is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The game will kick off at 3 p.m., and will be televised on the NFL Network.
Tickets range in price from $10 to $30. For additional information, call the Reese’s Senior Bowl ticket office at 251-432-4109 or 888-736-2695.