2017 NFL Draft
The East West Shrine Game – Where giving, community and football come together.
St Petersburg, Fl.
As the sun comes down on both the college and NFL campaigns, attention inevitably turns to the draft for teams and fans desperate for hope alike. With all the media attention focused upon the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, or ‘underwear olympics’ as some affectionately refer, there lies an All-Star contest and associated week of on-field practices dating back 91 years with a big heart, the East West Shrine Game, which began yesterday.
At the conclusion of the week lies its focal point, the East West Shrine Game itself, a celebratory fusion of charity and football, held each year at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL as America’s oldest all-star game. In fact, it is the three days of practice consisting of specific positional drills and team play that NFL scouts are most interested in, to examine whether those in attendance can perform in ways they could not in college whilst confirming that they have witnessed on tape, while becoming familiar with them as people. As soon as the week has begun and the three practices quickly concluded, the vast majority of NFL attendance surrenders for Mobile, AL and the Senior Bowl.
While little known on these shores, the East West Shrine Gameweek represents a vital opportunity for those overlooked, underrated and lesser known prospects to springboard themselves into draft contention, prove they can compete against higher level opponents and force NFL scouts to scurry back to the film room.
Many of the ninety collegiate football players in St Petersburg will go undrafted with their hopes invested in becoming priority, undrafted free agents and practice squad hopefuls. That said the event can be just the opportunity, a glimmer of light that propels them to be recognised, earning another look and in some cases secure an invitation to attend the Senior Bowl the following week. Certainly, Arizona’s speedy downfield receiving threat, John Brown and standout corner Josh Norman are two such prospects whose futures were transformed following impressive weeks here. This is where the attraction lies in the footballing context – unearthing that next superstar.
The 2016 event unfolded in that exact manner. Stony Brook’s defensive end, Victor Ochi, now of the Kansas City Chiefs, dominated each and every day with his outstanding power, quickness and explosion to routinely beat opposing offensive linemen in one on one drills. Michigan’s center prospect, senior Graham Glasgow (Detroit Lions) stood out head and shoulders as the best at his position, stonewalling his opposing defensive tackles time and again, including South Carolina State’s physically dominating standout, Javon Hargrave (Pittsburgh Steelers) who himself became the star of the week.
Green Bay Packer receiver Geronimo Allison of Illinois wowed scouts with his prototypical NFL size and speed for a wide receiver here twelve months ago, vaulting him realistically, as a result, as a worthy draft pick in the latter rounds this April. Canadian prospects, such as Laurent Duvernay-Tardif of Kansas City and Akiem Hicks of the New England Patriots, have found the opportunity through the event to prove themselves across the border, with Manitoba’s Ebuka David Onyemata dominating his offensive line opponents both inside at defensive tackle and on the edge. From the Big Ten, Northwestern’s defensive end, Dean Lowry enjoyed himself, having the opening to show off his non stop hustle that kept his lineman fully engaged without respite while also at the defensive end position, Southern Utah’s James Cowser gave Wisconsin’s Tyler Marz nightmares.
While the East West Shrine may not be as glamorous or as lucrative as its All-Star peers, it holds a special place in the hearts, futures and those young lives dependent upon it. Javon Hargrave and Graham Glasgow’s lives have been transformed with invitations to the Senior Bowl as a result, while NFL scouting personnel have raced back to their buildings with a long list of talent to re-examine.
While sport remains a vital component of all our lives and society in general, it is the ability to keep the doors open for the vital care and research the Shriners Hospitals provide that have the biggest meaning. Yesterday saw the annual players visit to the Shriners Children’s hospital in Tampa, a very special, yearly event that kicks off the week’s festivities, where all the former college athletes give their time and make the day of all the children forced away from their families by illness. A silent auction is held along with a players banquet regularly attended by the event’s Hall of Fame stars to raise vital, much needed funds.
The look on both children’s faces and of the players themselves tells a heart warming story how sport and caring for those less fortunate than ourselves go hand in hand and how American football is so often a force for good in our communities.
Until next January, St. Petersburg.
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