The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Shrine Game have both sent out their first round of invitations, and with the Senior Bowl slated to do the same on Monday, it’s about that time when conversation turns to the showcases where scouts get to evaluate top players from the ’16 draft class.
It got me thinking about a question I get at times, which is: were the players at the games you ran ever a problem? I can think of two good examples.
The first instance was in the first game I ever worked. It was called the Inta Juice North-South All-Star Classic in Houston in 2007. I was Personnel Director for the game, and still trying to figure out exactly where I fit into the football landscape.
It was played the second week in January ’07, and after spending the fall cobbling together a roster from scratch with the game’s president, my friend, Dave Ippoliti, we got through game week with a feeling of exhaustion and accomplishment. Though it was the first time any of us had done anything like this, we had arrived at game day, and we were feeling pretty satisfied. Except for a few late buses and a full week of chicken wings meals at every lunch (we had found a vendor who would trade us meals for advertising), I was pretty satisfied. However, I remember an event that took a bit of shine off the experience.
The players had just gotten off the bus and were filing into the lockers to get dressed when someone remarked about a missing piece of gear — a mouthpiece, or an ear pad, or something along those lines. I said something along the lines of, ‘I’ll take care of it,’ but before I could get going, I heard something along the lines of, “You better, because y’all haven’t given us anything all week.”
It was Lane College WR Jacoby Jones. Though he had come from a tiny school, we had given him a chance in our game, and he performed, parlaying his appearance into a Shrine Game slot the following week and, in the draft, a third-round selection by the Texans. Though we felt we’d been quite charitable in getting him a look with scouts, he was frustrated because we hadn’t loaded him up with swag such as free hoodies, track suits and shoes with fancy game logos. This was a bit of an omen; Jones showed his petulance on more than one occasion in the league and had his share of off-field incidents, including a celebrated party bus fight with a stripper and a DWI arrest.
The only other incident came in 2008, the following year, when I was running the Hula Bowl as its Executive Director. Though most of our players were on their best behavior (including Fresno State DT Jason Shirley, who wore a suit everywhere he went — in Hawaii — to try to dispel a few character issues), there was one player who was always on our case. If we had to change the schedule, or a meeting was cancelled, or a practice ran late, there was Western Michigan OG James Blair, showing up at our game headquarters with a big frown, there to express his dissatisfaction with this latest injustice. It got to where every time we saw him, we wanted to run the other way, because he was never happy. I remember the week after the game a Bucs scout called me to ask if we’d had any problems with any players. I gave him one name, and I remember that after I told him, I got the sense that that was the name he was expecting.
If you’re a player who gets a game invite, or the parent or agent of a young man hoping to get one, make sure you urge him not to be a malcontent during game week. His unhappiness might not mean anything to scouts (as with Jones), but it might wind up having an impact (Blair, despite getting invited to the combine, went undrafted and bounced around briefly with three teams before leaving the league).