In talking to former Penn State Nittany Lions, one thing stood out – the respect that Miles Sanders gained from his teammates during his time on campus. Penn State cornerback John Reid told me Sanders' competitiveness was apparent from pretty much day one.
"We came in at the same time, and I started games as a true freshman," Reid told me. "That wasn't the case with Miles. He had to wait his turn, but I'll say this ... he never settled for being a backup."
Other Penn Staters echoed that sentiment. Steven Gonzalez, an offensive lineman who helped pave the way for Sanders in 2018, said that the running back was "always working," citing his attitude and work ethic in practice. That workmanlike approach resonated with the offensive line in front of him. Other teammates saw that firsthand as well. I spoke with Mississippi State's Tommy Stevens (a former quarterback at Penn State), who told me a great story about Sanders.
"We came in a year apart, but Miles and I were kind of in the same boat," Stevens said. "He was the heir apparent to Saquon (Barkley), and I was going to take over for Trace (McSorley). Some five-star guys, they might come in and feel sorry for themselves in that role. That wasn't Miles.
"I remember one night, after practice and after meetings, I got together with some of the young receivers and we headed out to the indoor (facility) to throw the ball around, but the lights were already on. Sure enough, we walk in, and over by himself working alone in the corner was Miles, doing bag drills. That's all we needed to see right there."
Stevens told me that he knew his former teammate would find success in the NFL, saying he spread the word to everyone who would listen that Sanders would win Offensive Rookie Of The Year honors in 2019. Time will tell if that prediction will come true, but know that Sanders' work ethic will help lead him to future success regardless of that outcome.
– Fran Duffy
Former Eagle Bobby Taylor shares advice for Shrine Bowl participants
A second-round pick out of Notre Dame in 1995, former Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor understands the important role a mentor serves in making the transition from the college game to the NFL.
Taylor was drafted after Eagles Hall of Fame corner Eric Allen left to sign with New Orleans. Allen and Mark McMillan had terrific chemistry on the field and a strong bond off of it. Taylor knew he had big shoes to fill and McMillan aided him every step of the way.
"Mark took me up under his wing and showed me the ropes, showed me how to work," Taylor told Fran Duffy for an upcoming episode of the Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast, fueled by Gatorade.
Taylor spent this week serving as a mentor to the players at the East-West Shrine Bowl. Taylor was one of four NFL Legends in this role along with Willie McGinest, Will Shields, and Amani Toomer.
"My role is to basically try to help these guys when it comes to advice, whether it's in between the lines or off the field as well," Taylor said. "The guys are very receptive to some of the things and the experiences that I've been able to go through and even some of the mistakes that I've made as well."
Taylor noted how some of the participants were disappointed to not get invited to the Senior Bowl, a higher-tier all-star game that takes place next week in Mobile, Alabama. Taylor stated that nearly half of the league is made up of players who were not even drafted.
"You don't have to be a first-round pick to make it," Taylor said. "There are a lot of times when those guys end up fizzling out. Keep your head up. Keep working hard. If you do that, somebody's going to notice."
– Chris McPherson
Who stood out at the Shrine Bowl practices?
Fran and I recorded episodes of the Journey to the Draft podcast, driven by AAA, after each day of practice. We invited media members in attendance to offer their perspectives of who were the most impressive players in St. Petersburg.
Benjamin Solak, The Draft Network after Day 1:
1. DT Khalil Davis, Nebraska: "Davis showed some really impressive bend for a guy. He's squatty and thick. The hands are super active. They're really powerful. ... I didn't see him have a rep where he looked like he was out of place or confused or outmatched physically."
2. G Kevin Dotson, Louisiana: "This is a powerful dude in a phone booth. When he gets hands on you, he's winning."
3. CB Neville Clarke, Central Florida: "This guy is a bully. He's huge and unkind. Clarke's taking the fight to the receivers and you love to see that."
4. DE Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State: "We're checking boxes for an FCS player. You're hanging on with FBS guys, with the top FBS guys, and it seems like if we add some more mass, he'll continue to grow."
5. DE Alex Highsmith, Charlotte: "Highsmith looks stronger than these guys from the jump. He looks like the guy from a Power 5 program. He looks like the guy who was the high recruit."
Bo Wulf, The Athletic after Day 2:
1. G Kevin Dotson, Louisiana: "He's been my favorite player through two days."
2. WR John Hightower, Boise State: "I know Eagles fans are looking for receivers with juice. There's only one guy here who I think has been able to separate and show speed."
3. LB Mykal Walker, Fresno State: "He moves well. He looks to me like more of an NFL-caliber athlete than the other linebackers."
4. RB Adrian Killins, Central Florida: "I see a lot of juice from him and as the man who invented Boston Scott; I feel like I can speak with some authority."
5. DT Bravvion Roy, Baylor: "That's like my favorite type of player, a real squatty defensive tackle. Reminds me a little bit of Brandon Williams from the Senior Bowl a couple of years ago."
Emory Hunt, Football Gameplan after Day 3:
1. G Kevin Dotson, Louisiana: "Every time you see a big run coming behind that right side, it's because he's cleared an expressway and I've also been impressed with what he's done in one-on-ones where it's really hard for an offensive lineman to have success in general."
2. WR Aaron Parker, Rhode Island: "Toughness. You see how it is out there in Philly with the receiving corps. You've got to be mentally tough, number one, but also physically tough and he fits the mold."
3. CB Luq Barcoo, San Diego State: "It's never a full all-star game season till you see a San Diego State cornerback stand out. Barcoo has been excellent. He's a click-and-close-type guy, active and aggressive in the hip pocket."
4. QB Tyler Huntley, Utah: "He compares his game to (Aaron) Rodgers, (Teddy) Bridgewater, and (Lamar) Jackson. Rodgers because he could make throws off the all different platforms. Bridgewater because he's been through a lot. He's calm. He likes his demeanor. And Jackson because he makes plays. So I was like, that's a unique answer. And people sleep on his accuracy."
5. QB Kevin Davidson, Princeton: "I thought he was the best quarterback on the East team. I thought he threw the football really well."
– Chris McPherson
Gabe Infante's presence felt at Shrine Bowl
Two alumni from St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia were on hand for the Shrine Bowl this week: offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr. and cornerback John Reid.
Runyan Jr. is well known as the son of former Eagles Pro Bowl tackle Jon Runyan Sr. But not as many know about the story of Reid, who went from Runyan's teammate to conference rival. Runyan followed in his father's footsteps at Michigan, while Reid went to Penn State.
Reid's bio states that he grew up in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, but he doesn't really consider that his hometown. His family struggled financially. Reid said he figures he moved six or seven times growing up, and he doesn't count when he was living in other people's homes.
It's more than well deserved. Forget the football, the things he taught us off the field prepared us for what happened on the field.
"You just got to grow up fast and mature. When your family is going through that, the last thing you want to be is an extra burden on them when they are already doing everything they can to try to provide for you," Reid said. "They raised me right. I'm around a lot of good people. No matter what environment I was in, I always had a good circle of people around me."
One of those people was his head coach at St. Joseph's Prep, Gabe Infante, who was named the 2018 Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year.
Infante compiled a record of 91-23 (.798 winning percentage) in nine seasons at the Prep. His teams played for five state titles, while capturing four of the last six – including the 2018 and 2016 6A state titles, and back-to-back titles in 2013 and '14. All four teams finished the season ranked No. 1 in Pennsylvania. The Hawks finished the 2018 campaign 13-0 and were ranked as high as sixth nationally by USA Today, Max Preps, and High School Football America. Following the 2018 season, Infante was named the running backs coach at Temple University.
Reid called Infante a "father figure."
"He instilled those values in everybody around him. He's taught me a lot of things, how to humble myself. He comes at you in a great way to make you always want to be achieving your goals," Reid said.
– Chris McPherson
These Nebraska defensive tackles were twinning at the Shrine Bowl
It's one thing to have two players from the same high school at the Shrine Bowl. It's another to have a pair of twins at the Shrine Bowl.
That was the case this week with the Nebraska defensive tackle duo of Khalil and Carlos Davis. The two won a pair of high school state championships at Blue Springs (Missouri) High before decorated careers in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Carlos, who is older by five minutes, shared a story about his brother that not many people know about. He said when they were sophomores at Blue Springs High, Khalil wrote a love letter to a girlfriend that got in the hands of the principal. When the two got home from school that day, their mom, Tracy, was there with the note sitting on a table. Carlos recalls howling with laughter as his brother was busted.
– Chris McPherson
The next Greg Ward?
One of the bright spots of the Eagles' season was the development and emergence of wide receiver Greg Ward, who went from the practice squad to catching the game-winning touchdown against Washington in Week 15 to keep the team's playoff hopes alive.
Before he was catching passes from Carson Wentz, Ward was delivering them. From 2015-16, only two NCAA quarterbacks accounted for at least 6,000 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards: Ward and Deshaun Watson.
Navy's Malcolm Perry looks to follow in Ward's footsteps. He started the transition from quarterback to wide receiver this week at the Shrine Bowl. Perry called the decision a "no-brainer."
"I'm just felt like it gave me the best opportunity to play at the next level," Perry said. "It was a great opportunity to get out here and learn from some great coaches and compete against the best of the best. I just wanted to get here get uncomfortable, see where I'm at, and just learn and get better every day."
Perry didn't put up prolific passing statistics as Navy utilizes an option offense. He threw for 1,084 yards in 2019, while rushing for 2,017.
Perry's career game came at Lincoln Financial Field just a month ago when he rushed for 304 yards and two touchdowns in a win over rival Army. He didn't throw a single pass on the day.
"It was surreal," said Perry, who was told on the final drive that he was close to the 300-yard plateau. "Definitely, the biggest moment of my college career. We hadn't won (over Army) in a few years, so I forgot what that was like."
Perry followed that outing up with a 213-yard day against Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. Navy tied a program record with 11 wins in 2019.
Perry isn't the first Midshipman to make the transition. Keenan Reynolds, a fifth-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy vote in 2015, texted Perry immediately after the Army-Navy Game. Reynolds, like Perry, went from quarterback to wide receiver. Reynolds has offered advice throughout the early part of the draft process. Reynolds was drafted in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens and it currently a member of the Seattle XFL franchise.
– Chris McPherson
An unusual turnaround for Clemson WR Diondre Overton
On Monday night, Clemson wide receiver Diondre Overton was playing for the National Championship in New Orleans against LSU.
The Tigers started fast, getting a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
It should have been a familiar feeling for Overton and the Tigers. Overton already won two National Championships and the Tigers reached the semifinals in 2016.
But this game was different.
"We didn't know how to handle success early," Overton said. "We got up 17-7 and we didn't have energy, so we couldn't keep that going."
Overton said that the team got caught up in the atmosphere, which was essentially a home game for LSU at the Superdome.
Heisman Trophy-winner Joe Burrow got hot and the LSU Tigers rallied to a comfortable 42-25 victory.
Overton didn't get any sleep that night. He got back to the team hotel at around 1:30 in the morning and was on a flight three hours later to get to the Shrine Bowl.
"I wouldn't say it was frustrating, but it was something to adapt to and get adjusted to," Overton said. "They deserved to win that game. We just couldn't say consistent on both sides of the ball."
On Tuesday, he went through physicals, so he didn't practice with his team. His roommate at the hotel, Berry's Mason Kinsey, helped him get caught up with the playbook. Overton said Kinsey reminded him of former Clemson teammate Hunter Renfrow, a fifth-round pick of the Raiders last year. Overton shined in Wednesday's practice as he quickly turned the page from a tough loss and looked ahead to his NFL future.
– Chris McPherson
Derrek Tuszka and the North Dakota State dynasty keep rolling
Carson Wentz ended his college career with two FCS National Championships at North Dakota State before being selected No. 2 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Since Wentz left, the Bison have won three more titles. After losing to James Madison in the semifinals in 2016, the Bison have won three straight National Championships with a record of 45-1 in that span.
The Bison beat James Madison for the title in 2017 and again last Saturday in a thrilling 28-20 win. Immediately after the game, defensive end Derrek Tuszka was one of the Bison on the flight to Tampa for the Shrine Bowl.
"It's been pretty crazy," Tuszka said. "A lot has happened lately, hasn't really sunk in yet that I'm a National Champion."
A high-motor edge rusher, Tuszka had 13.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a senior. He was active throughout the week of practices at the Shrine Bowl getting to the quarterback in team drills and winning the one-on-one drills between the offensive and defensive linemen.
Before enrolling at North Dakota State, Tuszka, who hails from South Dakota, watched his brother, Jarrod, also a defensive end, play with Wentz.
"That class, they did a great job teaching the young guys and so forth. So that's something that NDSU has done a great job of teaching and that it's never once about a single individual player. It's always about the team. And that's, that's part of why NDSU has been so successful," Tuszka said.
When asked for his favorite moment from his college career, Tuszka simply replied, "It's one of the four National Championships."
– Chris McPherson