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Checking In On Small-School Stars At The Senior Bowl

Faces in the crowd.

Every year you see it happen. The Senior Bowl, college football’s annual all-star game held in Mobile, AL, offers players to improve their draft stock.

Many fans and NFL scouts flood the practices and the game throughout the week to see the high profile players, but there always seems to be multiple names flying under the radar that garner attention.

The 2013 edition of the Senior Bowl was no different.

It started at the top with projected top-10 draft pick Eric Fisher from Central Michigan, who impressed all week and possibly took over the top spot for tackles in the draft. Fisher came in with a ton of hype and his legend grew even more throughout the week. Fisher is a strong 300 pounds and looks the part. He handled every defensive lineman that he faced this week. 

Former Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford did not disappoint this week either. Coming in with the small-school tag following his name, Alford handled the bigger sized receivers.

“Coming from Southeastern Louisiana, its a small school and thats the thing they have held against me but i'm happy with my performance,” Alford said. “I showed that i belong out here.”

Alford started off the game with a bang by returning the opening kickoff 88 yards before being caught from behind. The return set up the first score of the game. Alford also ended the game with an intercepted pass on an attempted 2-point conversion by the North team.

“I just thank the head coaches and the special teams coaches for letting me show my abilities,” Alford said of his kickoff return. “I told them no matter what when the ball was kicked off I was gonna return it no matter what and I got some good blocks. I showed scouts I belong out here,” Alford added.

Another player impressing everyone and possibly losing his small-school name was FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien. Cyprien was a three-time all-conference selection in his career in the Sun Belt and led his team in tackles with 93 and interceptions with four this year.

“It meant a lot to me to get the invite. I was very excited,” Cyprien said, “I came here with the goal to just compete and try to stand out. I had a good time here this week. The best moment is just being out on the field competing with these players,” Cyprien added.

During the week, Cyprien was compared to safeties as good as Ed Reed and showed he could cover as well as play the run in the box.

NFL draft scout Matt Miller tweeted, “Jonathan Cyprien is my favorite defensive player in this class. Pray your team drafts him.”

Other players were transfers from bigger schools but still have something to prove.

This list includes Tennessee-Martin’s Montori Hughes. Hughes was a transfer from Tennessee after he had some off the field issues but his career at Tennessee-Martin went well. The massive defensive lineman had a great week of practice and stood out most in one-on-one drills. Hughes is big enough to compete inside in the NFL but has great quickness for a lineman.

“Its been wonderful being out here and being able to go against this competition,” Hughes explained.

“This game is big to me and its a great opportunity for me. I'm just focusing on what I need to do and just showing scouts and coaches I can get better every day. The small school thing is motivating. There is a little chip on my shoulder but you have to show them you can compete,” Hughes added.

And other players have a lot of upside coming out of smaller schools and will hope to use their future potential to impress teams. Former Rice Owl Vance Mcdonald switched positions between his junior and senior year and hopes his upside as a tight end intrigues scouts.

“Coming from the Rice platform it’s a smaller conference and we definitely don’t have the crowds that some of these other schools do but just being out here with all the top players in the country and getting to show your personal talents is really fun,” Mcdonald said. “My junior year I was a wide out so I just want to put my hand down and show everyone my physicality on the line.”

Look for these small-school players to continue to make a name for themselves as the NFL draft gets closer.