Living The Dream: Luke Shabro Breaks Down the Dream Bowl

shabro headshotThe NFL regular season and the college football season are over. The Super Bowl is upon us. But the offseason brings a new type of excitement for draftniks, draft-eligible prospects, and NFL front office and coaching staffs alike. With the completion of the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, draft season (our favorite season at RosterWatch) has now officially arrived.

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Some of the top college football players in the nation attended the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. They’ll go on to the Combine, and their respective Pro Days. Players from schools like Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, Missouri, and LSU will go through one of the longest job interview processes around. Most of these players have had scout’s eyes on them for the last two or three years.

But what about the small-school players? What if you didn’t play at Michigan or even Boise State? Small school players (especially in Division II and III) have traditionally gotten little attention from the mass media. Interest in DII/DIII players has increased, though, over the last couple of years thanks to NFL success stories such as Miles Austin (Monmouth), Pierre Garcon (Mount Union), Cecil Shorts III (Mount Union), and Andre Holmes (Hillsdale). Even given these notable exceptions, the general “rule” remains that the journey to the NFL (or even the Canadian Football League, for that matter) for DII and DIII players is still an uphill battle.

Neil Malvone, the founder and President of Cutting Edge Sports Management, saw that something was lacking for these players and worked hard to rectify this issue. Neil’s vision of an all-star game that could provide a showcase for the talents of DII and DIII players, an event to recognize their achievements, and a possible final game for players that may never play organized football again culminated into one spectacular event: The Dream Bowl.

2015 marked the third-annual Dream Bowl and it went off without a hitch. The combine, practices and game all take place in Virginia Beach, Virginia – a resort city that is home to some of the best football talent in the nation. Percy Harvin, Kam Chancellor, Michael Vick, Justin Hunter, E.J. Manuel and countless other NFL players hail from Virginia Beach and its surrounding cities (also known as Hampton Roads, Tidewater or Marcus Vick Hamburglar region).

Players and their families came into town and the air was buzzing with excitement as they checked into a local hotel and met with some of the country’s best DII and DIII talent that they would be playing with and against on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Players participated in a combine on Friday; going through drills including the 40-yard dash, short shuttle, three-cone drill, vertical leap, broad jump, and bench press. Scouts from the CFL observed and took notes as Montreal Alouettes College Scouting Director, Russ Lande, ran prospects through the drills. The players then had four practices (two morning and two afternoon) on Saturday and Sunday where they quickly had to learn one another’s tendencies and abilities. There was a banquet Saturday night where players seemed to truly enjoy receiving their personalized bowl game jerseys.

The Dream Bowl itself was a close, exciting one. The game started out with the Patriots jumping to an early lead. The Patriots defense forced some turnovers and Eastern Illinois QB Andrew Manley was careful with the ball and executed well on offense. The Patriots rushing attack was excellent as Derron Hall (who came into the week listed as a cornerback) averaged 6.2 yards per carry and found the end zone twice.

The Crusaders quarterback Keahn Wallace (of Central State University) showed great poise and pocket awareness, especially late in the game. It looked like he was doing a great job of recognizing blitzes and adjusting protection. He showed elusiveness and was slippery when running but he didn’t run at the first sign of a rush in his face. The game ended in dramatic fashion as the Patriots and Crusaders exchanged touchdowns in the 4th quarter with Wallace leading the Crusaders to a nail-biting 28-27 victory in the final three minutes of the contest.

The Crusaders and Patriots alike celebrated on the field right after the game with their coaches, teammates and most importantly, family. Maybe two to four of these players will get invites to NFL rookie camps or training camps. A handful will take their talents to the Great White (cold) North of the CFL.

Some will end up playing Arena football or may end up in the fledgling FXFL, the new “Fall Experimental Football League”. For many though, this game and the celebration on the field directly after were a victory lap. A final chance to commemorate all the hard work, sacrifice, and memories of a youth spent playing football.

In the spirit of the holiday, young men came together, regardless of race, religion or creed, and pursued their wildest hope of playing professional football. During the weekend of Dream Bowl III, everyone involved in the event, myself included, were truly living the dream.

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A special thanks to Neil Malvone and his team who went out of their way to make sure RosterWatch felt
extremely welcomed and gave us all-inclusive access to the players and the process. My interview with
Neil will be posted in the coming days, so keep an eye out for it.

Next week I’ll begin posting scouting reports and interviews I had with several players from the Dream Bowl. Stay tuned!!

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