It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, I’m not talking about Christmas. It’s Senior Bowl Week.

For a few days each January, the eyes of college and NFL fans all turn to see what is happening in Mobile. Who knows what overlooked player will wow the pro scouts and propel them up the draft list?

A perfect example is Bill Kollar, who was inducted into the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame last April. During the ceremony, Kollar said his career might have never gotten off the ground without the Senior Bowl. He had not gained much notice playing at Montana State, but he ended up being selected the MVP in the 1974 Senior Bowl. He became a first-round draft pick, played eight seasons in the NFL and is now the assistant head coach of the Houston Texans.

Around 40,000 people attending the 2014 Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile last year.

Around 40,000 people attending the 2014 Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile last year.

These are the kind of stories that have drawn fans to Ladd-Peebles Stadium for decades. That, and perhaps enjoying the greatest tailgating experience of the year.

The 110 players have been displaying their skills all week. Fans can catch their final workouts at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday. An autograph tent is set up immediately after practice for 30 minutes. The players will spend Friday visiting young patients at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital and Mobile Infirmary, as well as elementary schools in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Overseeing this year’s players are the coaching staffs from the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Titans, led by first-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt, is directing the North team. Second-year Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is guiding the South squad. The week of practice gives both NFL teams an edge going into the draft, as the Titans have the No. 2 pick and the Jaguars the No. 3 choice.

Field full of stars

The Southeastern Conference dominates the Senior Bowl roster with 25 players accepting invitations. Spanish Fort’s Reese Dismukes, the 2014 Rimington Trophy winner, leads the Auburn contingent at center. Tigers joining him are running back Cameron Artis-Payne, wide receiver Sammie Coates and defensive tackle Gabe Wright. Quarterback Nick Marshall accepted an invitation late last week to complete the roster. Representing the Crimson Tide this year are fullback Jalston Fowler, who played at Vigor in Prichard; quarterback Blake Sims; offensive tackle Austin Shepherd and offensive guard offensive guard Arie Kouandjio.

In addition to Dismukes and Fowler, players with local connections include Coates, from Leroy; Samford’s Jaquiski Tartt, who played at Davidson in Mobile; Senquez Golson of Ole Miss, from Pascagoula; and Damarious Randall of Arizona State, from Pensacola. Ameer Abdullah, a Homewood native whose father Kareem grew up in Mobile, ended up as Nebraska’s career all-purpose yardage leader after Auburn and Alabama wanted to sign him as a defensive back.

Offensive players that the Senior Bowl scouting staff recognized for impressive bowl performances are quarterbacks Cole Stoudt of Clemson and Bryce Petty of Baylor; running back Jeremy Langford of Michigan State and Synjyn Days of Georgia Tech; wide receivers Kevin White of West Virginia, Tyler Lockett of Kansas State, Titus Davis of Central Michigan and Tommy Shuler of Marshall; tight end Sam Arneson of Wisconsin; tackles Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M and Jamil Douglas of Arizona State; guards Kyle Costigan of Wisconsin and Shaq Mason of Georgia Tech; center Greg Mancz of GoDaddy Bowl champion Toledo; kick returner Jamison Crowder of Duke and kicker Sam Ficken of Penn State.

Acknowledged on the defensive side of the ball are tackles James Castleman of Oklahoma State and Grady Jarrett of Clemson; ends Houston Bates of Louisiana Tech and Markus Golden of Missouri; linebackers Eric Kendricks of UCLA, James Vaughters of Stanford and Tony Washington of Oregon; cornerbacks Donte Deayon of Boise State and Bryce Callahan of Rice; safeties Erick Dargan of Oregon and Lorenzo Waters of Rutgers; and punter Sam Irwin-Hill of Arkansas.

There are also two legacy players. LSU fullback Connor Neighbors was preceded by his father Wes (1987) and grandfather Billy (1962), who both played at Alabama. Fresno State wide receiver Josh Harper is also in Mobile, just like his father Willie Harper was in 1973 for Nebraska.

Up close and personal

Fans will have an opportunity to meet all the players Friday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Mobile Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall. The free event allows spectators and players to gather for autographs and photos. The event is divided into two sessions, with more information on which players will be available at each session available at www.seniorbowl.com.

Also set for the Mobile Convention Center on Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. is the Senior Bowl Experience. The free event will offer several interactive displays, special activities and other entertainment.

On Saturday, the East parking lot at Ladd-Peebles Stadium turns into the Food For Less Tailgate Party. The event is free, but passes are limited to the first 3,500 fans who purchased tickets to the game. Passes are available at all Food For Less locations and the Senior Bowl ticket office at 151 Dauphin St. In addition to food and drink, the tailgate party will include inflatable activities, face painters, clowns and other events.

The Baumhower Tailgate Challenge is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on game day. The competition, which began in 2004, judges participants on the right combination of good food, originality and outstanding presentation. The winner is recognized on the field during the first half of the game.

Kickoff for the Senior Bowl is set for 3 p.m. Tickets are $30 for sideline seats between the 10 yard lines; $20 for sideline seats between the 10 yard lines to the end zone; and $10 for general admission in the end zone. The game and practices will be broadcast on the NFL Network. For more information, call the Senior Bowl at 251-432-4109 or 888-736-2695.

And while not officially part of the Senior Bowl schedule, do not be surprised when running across a famous NFL coach along Dauphin or Royal streets this week.
Veet’s Bar & Grill, located across from the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel, has become a common gathering place following a rough day of scouting players.
My greatest recollection of this scenario was when Mike Ditka and his Chicago Bears staff were at a local watering hole, and a young woman approached the table.

She said Ditka was her father’s favorite player and she would be honored if she could buy him a shot. Ditka looked her straight in the eyes and said he could not accept the offer, but he would agree to purchase a round for her, his coaches and himself. The crowd cheered at the gesture.

Yes, this is most wonderful time of the year … for football fans.