Small-school guys get their shot at NFL combine
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Armonty Bryant gets those awkward looks every time
he tells someone he attends college at ECU.
Naturally, the first inclination is to ask about East Carolina. When he
explains the school name is actually East Central, the next question,
naturally, is East Central what?
No, Bryant is not the most prominent defensive lineman at this year's
annual NFL scouting combine and he doesn't come from a school most
football fans have even heard of. Yet he impressed enough of the right
people to earn one of 333 invites to the NFL's annual scouting combine
so he can compete against all those big-name guys he's been watching on
television the last few years.
"I hear it all the time. They think it's supposed to be East Central Michigan or something," he said. "East Central is in Ada, Okla. I like
to say it's in the middle of nowhere."
Here, all 29 players form the non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools
have a story.
Some, such as Tennessee Tech receiver Da'Rick Rogers, are actually FBS
transplants. Rogers landed with Tech, Jim Youngblood's alma mater, last
August after getting booted off Tennessee's team for failing a drug
Others, such as Bryant and Azusa Pacific offensive lineman Luke Marquardt, outgrew their small-school monikers long ago but never got a
chance to face the bigger-name players until now. Bryant was listed at
6-foot-4 and 250 pounds last season. Scouts believe he can play either
defensive end or outside linebacker.
Marquardt came to Indianapolis at 6-8½ and 315 pounds and did 31 reps
at 225 pounds on the bench press Friday.
The only real difference between them and their higher-profile
colleagues? Probably visibility.
Bryant had only two scholarship offers in high school -- Abilene
Christian and East Central.
Marquardt gave up football in high school, choosing instead to focus on
basketball. When Azusa Pacific offered him scholarship money for
football, he gave it a whirl. In 2½ years, he made the transition from
walk-on basketball player to prized pupil of NFL Hall of Famer Jackie
Slater, Azusa Pacific's offensive line coach.
"Just by chance we were walking by the head coach's football locker,
and I decided to go meet him," Marquardt said. "He was like, 'You have
great size, great athleticism and we'd love to have you come out for
tight end,' so I went out on the field, did a couple routes, threw with
the quarterbacks and they offered me a little bit of money and then I
eventually got a full-ride scholarship."
Of course, it's not that easy for everyone.
At 6-6, 325 pounds, Glenville State's Mark Jackson has the size NFL
scouts covet in an offensive lineman and is athletic enough to have
caught a 14-yard TD pass on a tackle-eligible play in 2010.
Now he's trying to rewrite history.
The last player to be drafted from Division II's West Virginia
Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was Salem's Jeff Shaw in 1986. He
went to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 10th round, a round that no
longer exists in this seven-round draft. Former Denver tight end Orson
Mobley, also from Salem, was taken in the sixth round that year.
Twenty-seven years later, Jackson is the league's best hope to end the
"It kind of freaks me out," Jackson said. "Going to Glenville State, I
was a little worried about getting my exposure out there, but my
coaches did a great job at putting my film together and getting it out
there. There is some good football played in my conference."
And somehow the scouts still found a guy like Jackson in a nook like
Glenville, W. Va., population 1,538, with a student enrollment at
Glenville State of fewer than 2,000.
In 2010, the scouts' favorite diamond-in-the-rough was little-known
offensive tackle Jared Veldheer from Hillsdale College in Michigan. He
wound up being taken by the Raiders in the third round and has started
43 games over the past three seasons.
Going small school, though, doesn't necessarily mean NFL teams are
avoiding the kind of trouble that exists at bigger schools.
Rogers, of course, admitted to the failed drug test, and Bryant is
trying to rebuild his reputation after last fall's arrest on charges of
marijuana distribution in a school zone. He said a police officer
spotted him selling marijuana to a friend in a dorm parking lot. Later,
he was pulled aside at practice and subsequently arrested. Bryant said
he was given a five-year deferred sentence and two years of supervised
Being at a small school prevented the arrest from grabbing national
attention and becoming Bryant's legacy.
"Maybe it would have been a different situation, maybe it would have
been handled differently," Bryant said when asked about whether he had
considered what the consequence might have been if he was at a
Instead, he continued to play and played well enough to earn a ticket
to Indy, where he's now lining up against the likes of LSU's Barkevious
Mingo and Florida's Sharrif Floyd and Alabama's Jesse Williams.
"I love being the underdog," Marquardt said. "I love coming in here and
catching people's eye. I definitely feel there's some intrigue and I'm
excited to prove myself at the next level."
NFL Combine Central