April 26, 2013

Collins leads class of D-III pro hopefuls

Jasper Collins hopes to follow in the Mount Union-to-NFL footsteps of wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts III, who is working out alongside Collins to help him prepare.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

 Since 1991, sixteen players have been drafted from Division III into the NFL. During this time, there has not been a stretch of three straight years with a Division III draftee. A host of talented players, led by Mount Union wide receiver Jasper Collins, hope to change that this year.

Albion cornerback Chris Greenwood was selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by the Detroit Lions. Mount Union wideout Cecil Shorts was picked in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. Shorts's selection ended a two-year draft drought for D-III players. Collins is projected as a sixth- or seventh-round pick this year and is consistently rated the highest draft prospect among his Division III peers.

"The entire process has been very humbling," said Collins. "It is a blessing to be able to represent Division III and a tremendous program like Mount Union."

As more draft "gurus" populate the internet and more postseason all-star games sprout each year, the number of opportunities for exposure has increased for small-school prospects. Collins benefited from playing in the East-West Shrine Game, where he was the only D-III player on the roster. The success of recent D-III alums like Shorts, Pierre Garcon, Fred Jackson and Jerrell Freeman has also helped draw scouts' attention.

"I think [their success] has shown that the talent level has improved a little bit in D-III," said Josh Buchanan, who has covered the draft for the past ten years. "There are players who instead of going to a lower-level D-II or FCS, they go play for a winner like Mount Union or Mary-Hardin Baylor knowing they will get a shot, if they want it."

Those who have made it have done their part to continue the trickling pipeline from Division III to the NFL. Collins has been working out with Shorts in preparation for the draft.

"He's been with me every step of the way," said Collins. "He's like a big brother."

Mary Hardin-Baylor linebacker Javicz Jones has received inspiration and motivation from Cru alum Freeman, who had a breakout season for the Indianapolis Colts after years of NFL tryouts and a stint in the CFL. Jones is projected by many to follow a similar path. He worked out for the Houston Texans and will likely receive some NFL tryouts, but most see him as a CFL starter.

"Jerrell gave me some insight and tips into what he went through," said Jones. "He seized an opportunity, but it took some time. For a lot of us, it's a matter of timing."

Buchanan, who ranks small school prospects at www.buyscouting.com, has Collins, Cal Lutheran wide receiver Eric Rogers and UW-Platteville safety Ryan McWethy rated as his top three players from Division III.

Javicz Jones hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jerrell Freeman, but even then, it took Freeman years to make it to the NFL.
UMHB athletics file photo

"All three of them possess something that I could see a team taking a shot on in the seventh round," said Buchanan.

The draft preparation process is different for a small-school athlete. While some players draw NFL interest earlier in their college careers, most have surfaced on scouts' radars within the past year. They are eager to jump at any opportunity to show off their skills, whether it's by playing in a postseason all-star game or working out at a larger school's pro day.

"It's harder to get a chance if you don't have NFL measurables," said Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban. "It helps a small-school player anytime they get an opportunity to show what they can do, especially against different levels of competition."

Rogers has the measurables that NFL scouts look for in a wide receiver. He moved from defensive back to wide receiver prior to his senior year of high school and was not recruited by many programs. Scouts first noticed him after his junior season at Cal Lu and head coach Ben McEnroe started challenging Rogers to work hard enough to get to the next level.

"I didn't really plan on giving this a shot until last year," said Rogers. "Coach Mac kept motivating me to put in the work."

Urban knows where these players are coming from. Before he embarked on a coaching career, Urban was a captain and wide receiver for Washington and Lee. He is one of many NFL coaches with D-III playing experience. In addition to Urban, the Bengals staff boasts coaches who played for Cortland State, Trinity (Texas), and Ursinus. They know that football instincts translate across levels of competition.

"We take pride in our schools," said Urban. "It's all football to me."

The players vying for a spot on an NFL roster feel the same way.

"Football is football," said Collins. "At the wide receiver position, no matter your size you can still run and catch and make plays."

Other notable D-III players who have worked out for NFL teams include Coe defensive lineman Frank Weymiller, UW-Oshkosh quarterback Nate Wara, Albion running back Clinton Orr and RPI quarterback Mike Hermann. Most of these players know they will not hear their name called from a podium in New York City, but hope that they are given an opportunity to earn a roster spot, either as a college free agent signee or training camp invitee. Some use their small school beginnings as a chip on their shoulder.

"I want to prove that it doesn't matter what division you're in," said Jones. "If you can play football and work hard, you can make something happen."

The players have also stayed true to their Division III roots. Jones continues to take classes and will graduate in May. Collins is one semester away from graduation and will finish next Spring, following in the footsteps of Shorts, who went back to Mount Union for classes after his rookie NFL season. Rogers is currently taking 18 units while working out for NFL teams and will graduate with his class.

Eric Rogers is maintaining his full course load while getting ready for his shot in the NFL.
Photo by Joe Bergman, d3photography.com

"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Rogers of his heavy workload. "I feel like I'll be able to represent the D-III level and show people that you can go to a small school and still excel and ultimately get the chance."

One, maybe two, will be drafted; a few more will sign as free agents; a few more will get invited to tryouts. Saturday will be a long day and night with players and their agents waiting for just one phone call. That call means an opportunity. Sometimes it takes a few opportunities to secure a roster spot, but players like Freeman have shown that it can be done. It all starts with that first phone call, then hard work and perseverance take over.

"I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but there are guys who keep coming back year after year, knocking on the door," said Jones. "Now it's just a waiting game to see which team takes a chance on you."

The prospects each plan on spending Saturday with family. Hopefully, they will have a plane to catch on Sunday.

"I continue to work hard and pray every day," said Collins. "What's meant to be, will be."

Rank Pos First Name Last Name School Rd. Proj.
1 WR Jasper Collins Mount Union 7th
2 WR Eric Rogers Cal Lutheran PFA
3 S/LB Ryan McWethy UW-Platteville PFA
4 G Ryan Moores Middlebury PFA/FA
5 QB Mike Hermann RPI FA
6 WR Scott Pillar Albright FA
7 WR Dameron Fooks Whittier FA
8 LB Charles Dieuseul Mount Union Tryout
9 RS Chris Denton Mount Union Tryout
10 RB Clinton Orr Albion
Tryout
11 K Allen Cain Texas Lutheran
Tryout
12 WR Julius Moore Mount Union Tryout
13 T Jeremy Vujnovich Louisiana College Tryout
14 SS Nick Driskill Mount Union Tryout
15 RS John Borsellino Benedictine
Tryout
16 C Curtis James St. Thomas Tryout
17 RB Shawn Morris Birmingham-Southern
Tryout
18 P Jordan Gay Centre
Tryout
19 WR Dee Brizzolara Chicago Tryout
20 WR D'Mario Parker Louisiana College Tryout
Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Coast Guard at Anna Maria
Video Preview Live Stats
7:00 PM
Defiance at Baldwin Wallace
Video Preview Live Stats
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
Video Live Stats Audio
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
Live Stats Audio
8:00 PM
Belhaven at Millsaps
Video Live Stats
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
Video Live Stats
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Worcester State
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Curry
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
10:00 PM
Adrian at Pacific
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Endicott at Framingham State
Video Video Preview Live Stats
12:00 PM
Washington U. at Carnegie Mellon
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Audio
12:00 PM
Chicago at Case Western Reserve
Video Preview Live Stats
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Maine Maritime
Video Preview
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Otterbein at Buffalo State
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
Ursinus at Bethany
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
Sewanee at Kenyon
Video Live Stats
12:00 PM
Alfred State at William Paterson
Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
King's at Moravian
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Kean at Christopher Newport
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
McDaniel at Catholic
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
Video Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton
Video Live Stats Tickets
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Dickinson
Video Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Kalamazoo
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
St. Vincent at Alma
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Olivet at St. John Fisher
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
Audio
1:00 PM
Hobart at Brockport
Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
Video Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
The Apprentice School at Methodist
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
Live Stats
1:30 PM
RPI at Norwich
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Bluffton
Live Stats
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
Video Audio
1:30 PM
Bridgewater at Gettysburg
Video Live Stats
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
Audio
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
2:00 PM
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Austin at Hendrix
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
Live Stats
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Rockford
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Westminster (Mo.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Luther
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lake Forest
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Crown at Hamline
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
Audio
2:00 PM
Bethel at Dubuque
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Grinnell
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Mayville St.
2:00 PM
Simpson at UW-Stout
2:00 PM
Aurora at Carthage
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Coe
2:00 PM
Ripon at Concordia-Chicago
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
Video
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
Video Audio Audio
2:30 PM
Southern Virginia at Earlham
Video Live Stats
2:30 PM
Lawrence at Presentation
4:00 PM
McPherson at Nebraska Wesleyan
Live Stats
4:00 PM
UW-Platteville at George Fox
Video
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
Video Live Stats
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
Video Live Stats Audio
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
Video Live Stats
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Berry
Video Live Stats
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Averett
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Denison at Marietta
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
Video Preview Live Stats Live Stats
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Preview Live Stats
7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
Video Preview Live Stats
7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
Preview Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Anderson at North Park
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
Video Live Stats Audio
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats Audio
7:30 PM
Hanover at Centre
Video Live Stats
8:00 PM
Willamette at Rhodes
8:00 PM
Cornell at Iowa Wesleyan
Video Live Stats Live Stats
8:00 PM
Augsburg at Northwestern (Minn.)
Video Live Stats
8:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
Video Live Stats Audio
8:00 PM
Sul Ross State at UT-Permian Basin
8:30 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
Video Live Stats Audio
Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
Video Live Stats Audio
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
Live Stats
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
Live Stats
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
Video Audio Audio
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
Video
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Video Live Stats Audio Audio
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
Video Live Stats
4:00 PM
UW-Platteville at George Fox
Video
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Video Preview Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
Video Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
Preview Live Stats Audio
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats Audio