CARSON, CA -- The NFL Player Association presented its annual college all-star game for former college players, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The game is a showcase for players who might be taken in the latter rounds of the NFL draft.
The game gives each player the opportunity to showcase their skills on the field in front of hundreds of NFL scouts prior to entering the NFL Draft or playing at the professional level. Although many players were from smaller colleges, nearly 200 scouts attended.
The National and American teams faced off again for the sixth annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Stub Hub Center in Carson on Jan. 21. Played before a nearly empty stadium, the National Team defeated the Americans, 27-7, with American defensive back Lorenzo Jerome of St. Francis (Pa.) named as the MVP of the game.
The game had some of the biggest names in collegiate football on its roster. Although not comparable to the star power of the Senior Bowl, it is still a valuable showcase for future NFL prospects with the desire and intent to impress scouts, coaches and executives.
After hearing what was told to each player from former NFL and Team National Head Coach Mike Martz, he stated that “The first thing we tell them is this is not an all-star game; this is a job interview. We’re here to help you do the best you can for a job interview, and everything you do in practice is under the microscope.”
There were many players who made good use of this advice. In fact, many of them helped their case by the way they played in the game.
St. Francis' defensive back Lorenzo Jerome had two interceptions in the first half and finished with three tackles. Despite being on the losing team, he was awarded the game's MVP trophy and will compete in next week's Senior Bowl. When asked about the prospect of playing for one of L.A.’s NFL teams, Jerome said he just wants to make any NFL team’s 53-man roster.
At halftime, the Nationals led 10-0 over the American team. However, three first half interceptions by the Nationals' quarterbacks Philip Nelson of East Carolina and Houston's Greg Ward Jr. kept the score close as the Americans were within reach.
Nelson completed 11 of 18 passes for 102 yards and rushed 1 yard for a TD. “He’s got no flaws to him,” Martz said after the game of Nelson being a starter in the NFL. "Someone is gonna get a gem with this young man.”
The Nationals defense started the second half with a 15-yard fumble recovery and score from SJSU linebacker Isaiah Irving on the first play of the third quarter.
The Nationals continued to play with momentum late in the third when Virginia running back Taquan Mizzell scored a touchdown. He rushed for 96 yards and a TD on 10 carries. Miles Bergner, a kicker from South Dakota, made two field goals for the Nationals, connecting on a 27-yard field goal in the first half and a 45-yard in the second half.
The American team, coached by former NFL head coach Jim Zorn, did not score until late in the game. Only scoring once, that touchdown came from a 13-yard touchdown reception from Teriyon Gipson, a running back from New Mexico, in the third quarter. The younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars safety Tashuan Gipson, he finished with 64 rushing yards and 32 receiving yards on just three receptions.
The talent has gotten better each year. After contributing most of the Nationals win to the offensive linemen, there were other players who made impressions to include Georgia defensive back Maurice Smith and Ohio State receiver Dontre Wilson.
"There are so many good players who deserve this opportunity," Martz said. "I think this game is very important. It gives these guys a chance to display they're NFL ready." Martz named Wilson as an "outstanding player" from the week's practice. Smith had a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter, and led his team in tackles at halftime.
The 2017 game was the sixth installment of the Collegiate Bowl. The National team has won each year, and this was Coach Martz’s third-consecutive win as head coach. The StubHub Center, which will become the new temporary home for the San Diego Chargers this fall, was mostly quiet and empty for the National’s blowout win.