What do Lane College, Furman University, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and John Carroll University all have in common?
Well for starters, chances are these aren’t the first schools that pop into your head when you think of college football. More importantly however, is the fact that each of these institutions have produced top-flight NFL talent, attending the 2013 Pro Bowl.
Big name Division-I FBS programs dominate the headlines and are the center of attention in college football. So much so that it is extremely easy for the proverbial “little guys” to get overlooked.
In the case of college football the “little guys” are programs in FCS (formerly Division I-AA), Division II, and Division III athletics.
Football players at these levels with hopes of playing in the NFL have a larger uphill battle than Division I athletes. Their national exposure isn’t nearly as great, so in order to be noticed they must shine when an opportunity presents itself.
When a player from a non-FBS program makes it to the NFL and gains staying power, it is a success for all athletes in similar situations.
Even more impressive is if one of those players is able to perform at a Pro Bowl-caliber.
Of the 116 players that have been chosen to represent their respective teams in the 2013 Pro Bowl, only nine attended non-FBS schools. They are as follows:
—Jacoby Jones–Lane (D-2)
—Robert Mathis–Alabama A&M (FCS)
—Jerome Felton–Furman (FCS)
—Jared Allen–Idaho State (FCS)
—Jahri Evans–Bloomsburg (D-2)
—Jermon Bushrod–Towson (FCS)
—Victor Cruz–UMass (FCS when Cruz played there)
—Vincent Jackson–Northern Colorado (FCS)
—London Fletcher–John Carroll (D-3)
While the colleges that these players attended may be unfamiliar to most, the players themselves are well known throughout the league.
Redskins’ linebacker London Fletcher is attending his fourth-consecutive Pro Bowl this year. The Redskins’ captain and former Super Bowl Champion led the NFL in tackles from 2000-2009, and led for the single season of 2011.
Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis is appearing in his fifth-consecutive Pro Bowl. The Super Bowl champion has recorded at least 9.5 sacks in seven of his NFL seasons.
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is appearing in his fifth career Pro Bowl. Allen is a two-time NFL sack king. In the 2011 season he set a Vikings single season record with 22 sacks, while falling a half sack short of Michael Strahan’s NFL record.
Giants’ wide receiver Victor Cruz exploded onto the scene in 2011, key to the Giants’ Super Bowl season. After going undrafted in 2010 he signed with the New York Giants. An injury to his hand ended his rookie season five games into the year. Over the past 2 seasons Cruz has won a Super Bowl, while racking up 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The number of non D-1 players in the Pro Bowl may seem low, but it is fairly common. You may have heard of Redskins receiver Pierre Garçon, who is on the cusp of making the Pro Bowl leap, if 2012 was any indication.
In the 2012 Pro Bowl, seven of the 117 NFL players selected came from non-BCS schools. Four of those players were selected to this year’s Pro Bowl as well.
In the 2011 Pro Bowl, 12 of the 120 players selected came from non D-1 schools.
Each year thousands of college football players set out with aspirations of making it to the next level and realizing their dreams of playing in the NFL.
They may find themselves finishing up a career at Drake University like Billy Cundiff, or at Troy University like DeMarcus Ware.
Their alma mater may not get the national recognition given to Alabama or Notre Dame, but they should not be discouraged. Scouts in the NFL will search high and low for talent, and the best of the best always find a way to stand out.
A small, but strong contingent of NFL players have come from obscurity to shine in the NFL.
Tags: bcs, division i, division ii, division III, fbs, fcs, london fletcher
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