National Team Finally Beats American Team in College All-Star Game at the Rose Bowl
The eighth annual NFLPA Collegiate Bowl resulted in the American team celebrating a 10-7 victory at the Rose Bowl for the first time in the annual game’s history.
Former Rams head coachs Mike Martz and Dick Vermeil lead the National team to wins in the first seven contests. Martz won the last four but he didn’t coach either this team. Instead, new Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano earned the victory on Jan. 19, 2019.
“Everything that you sacrifice is for those five minutes that we had on that field together, after you win a game like that.” Pagano said after helping his team come back from a seven-point halftime deficit.
The National Team head coach added it meant the world for him and his coaching staff to be apart of the game.
“They may might not see each other again but I guarantee you they built lifetime relationship in a short period of time.” Pagano said about helping his team come together over the week’s practices leading into the game.
What players stood out?
Pagano mentioned his quarterbacks Kyle Shurmur, JaJuan Lawson and Jalan McClendon as players who did great jobs in the game. The former Colts head coach from 2011-17 went on to say defensive backs Nate Brooks and Brandon Watson looked like NFL players.
“This was these kids first opportunity to start to showcase their talents and skillset for all the scouts and all the 32 NFL teams. ” He said. “They took full advantage of it.”
Pagano shouted out the kicker Rafael Gaglianone who converted the 43-yard field goal in the third quarter that would give be the game’s final score as a standout too.
However, none of his players went on to win MVP. Instead, that title went to National team running back Wes Hills.
Wes Hills wins MVP
The running back from Slippery Rock showcased his patience, physicality and vision while rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
“This whole experience has been eye-opening.” Hills said after the game. “It gave me more confidence in my abilities.”
Wes hopes it showed he can play at the next level too. The running back went to a small school in New Jersey and didn’t get many offers. He originally played three seasons at North Delaware before ineligibility led him to coaching backs at a school in Delaware. Hills ended up at Slippery Rock but said he’s always played with a chip on his shoulder.
Now, he said he’s gained, ‘a full head of steam,’ headed into the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama next week. Hills received an invite over the phone earlier this week.
“You dream about calls like that.” The NFLPA Bowl MVP said. “I dreamed about playing in games like this.”
Hills also said he enjoyed playing in Cali and the Rose Bowl for this game.
Still, his highlight of the week included being coached by players he played Madden with as a kid including NFL alumni Clinton Portis and Josh Cribbs. Hills said he was in their ear all week trying to get tips to get better.
“It doesn’t get any better than that.” Hills said.
Coaching also highlights NFLPA Bowl
Besides Portis and Cribbs, the National team featured NFL alumni like Alge Crumpler, Darrell Green, Chris Claiborne, Akili Smith and Bertrand Berry. Former NFL head coach and long-time assistant Mike Tice led that group.
Pagano’s staff included NFL legends like Ed Reed and Andre Johnson. Reed dominated much of the broadcast with his colorful reactions and excitement throughout the game.
Speaking of Hall of Famer, Rams legend Jackie Slater led the offensive line for the American team.
The Hall of Fame tackle said he enjoys coaching at the Collegiate Bowl because it gives him a great chance to interact with great people.
“I don’t change up on my approach.” Slater said after taking post-victory pictures with many of the linemen he coached.
“So much of the offensive line is about playing aggressively.” Slater said. “I try to teach them when it is time to work hard and when to rest.”
He mentioned Vitas Hrynkiewicz as a standout from the week. The former Youngstown State center can play all three interior line positions according to Slater.
A local standouts
Another standout from the American squad included receiver Xavier Ubosi out of UAB. The Reseda High School and Pierce College alumni turned down an opportunity to play in the East-West Shrine game for his first chance to play in-front of his friends and family in Los Angeles.
Headed into the game, Ubosi impressed throughout the week with his size and hands. Ubosi made a couple of the best catches of the game including a 19-yard-pass where he jumped in the air, grabbed the ball and punished the defender by dipping his shoulder.
After the actual game, his family and friends crowded him for handshakes and pictures. The UAB product said he was happy with how he played for the American team.
“We got the W and that’s all that really matters.” Ubosi said afterwards.
Described by himself and others as a vertical threat, Ubosi added that he wished he clean up little things like his blocking during the game. The UAB also said he received feedback that he is a little raw but he hopes to continue working on his route running as the draft process continues.
“Now it’s full go,” Ubosi said about building on his Collegiate Bowl experience. “I’m excited.”
What’s next for all the prospects after the Collegiate Bowl?
All the 112 participants from around the country hope join notable NFLPA Bowl alumni like Bears running back Tarik Cohen, Lions tight end Luke Wilson, Seahawks defensive back Shaquill Griffin and more. Last year’s game featured 19 players drafted, 30 free agent signings, 24 players on active rosters and 20 players on practice squad.
Otherwise, the Collegiate Bowl is a little different than similar All-Star weeks like the East-West Shrine game and Senior because the CFB Seniors are put through NFL-styled practices as well as classes about maintaining professionalism when taking the next step. NFL players like Lamar Jackson and Richard Sherman appeared throughout the week to share knowledge about saving money and surviving the NFL lifestyle with the draft hopefuls.
Each year the game seems to get more and more attention as well as better talent. This year was the game’s second installment at the Rose Bowl. Previously, the StubHub venue hosted the game in Carson, Calif. where the Chargers currently play.