CARSON, CA-Decision time about the future for senior football players hoping to impress NFL scouts come quickly. Once the time tick down to triple zero on the scoreboard of their last football game, the time to make a career choice is almost imminent.
That decision can be put off by these players for a couple of weeks thanks to opportunities to showcase their talent on the football field one more time before the grading examination take place. The test comes in the form of player bowl games like the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl that gives those with aspirations of playing in the NFL another shot to impress a scout or two.
Memphis cornerback Arthur Maulet sees the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl as a last chance to leave scouts with one final impression which he thought he did.
“It’s an honor so I can represent my family, the University of Memphis, and my loved ones and friends,” Maulet said. “I felt like I upgraded everything I needed to upgrade. I feel like I can compete. I can tackle. It was a blessing to be here.”
In all the rituals that come along in preparation for the game itself, Maulet got an awakening about the difference between playing college ball and entering into the professional level.
“It prepared me a lot. It shoed me that it’s a business and that you have to work hard to take a grown man’s job,” Maulet said.
Maulet played like a grown man for the American team, holding down the fort at his left cornerback position. Even though the American team dropped a 27-7 defeat to the National team, Maulet played outstanding ball as opposing quarterbacks either avoided throwing his way altogether or didn’t push the envelope too much. But there definitely was solid talent on the field that Maulet was going up against.
“They had some good players out here,” Maulet said. “They pushed me to get better. I’ll see them in (NFL training) camps.”
University of Houston playmaking quarterback Greg Ward Jr. could be a player that Maulet see in rookie mini-camp. Ward, who passed for 3, 557 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Cougars during the 2016 college football season, is likely to make the switch to wide receiver at the next level. That means bringing out and fully utilizing his electric brand of play of running past defenders and making would-be tacklers miss, something he’s been known to do.
“I’m an athlete. I’m a football player,” Ward said. “I think I can play anywhere on the field. It doesn’t matter (about switching positions). I know I’ll have access to the house regardless of where I play. I think my career at Houston helped me out a lot, especially going to the next level.”
Advancing to the next level is always a challenge for players who don’t always enjoy the luxury of playing in front of a nationally-televised audience. That can certainly be the case for football players like Grambling State wide receiver Chad Williams that come from historically back colleges and universities.
Though historically black colleges and universities are known to be a talent-rich field for pro football scouts, achieving notoriety can be a steep hurdle to climb when you consider all the media attention given to bigger name schools. Standing at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, Williams have commanded a lot of attention himself the last two years as he went over the 1,000 yards mark in receiving twice.
In 2015, Williams, who played for the National team in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, caught 64 passes for 1,012 yards and 10 scores through the air. He improved on those numbers in 2016, snatching 90 passes for 1,337 yards and 11 touchdowns. That kind of stat sheet will get you noticed.
Williams consider it an honor to be selected to play and match his talents against players from the Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, Big Ten Conference, and others.
“It feels good,” Williams said after the game. “Coming from an HBCU, and putting an HBCU on the map, playing on a bigger stage with a lot more talented guys, and coming out here and competing and competing well, it make me feel awesome.”
Williams is uncertain about his draft status. But he’ll be bringing an edge with him to whatever NFL camp he’s invited to, he said.
“As of now, I’m just staying grounded and working as hard as I possibly can,” Williams said. “I’m working with a chip on my shoulder because I am from an HBCU. I want guys to know (that) I’m no different.”
That might be a different mindset coming from Minnesota quarterback Mitchell Leidner. The 6-foot-4, 230 pounds Leidner, on paper, seems to be what NFL teams would be looking for in a signal-caller. Leidner has a strong arm and his durability was proven during his four-year college career. What he doesn’t have are the gaudy numbers some of his contemporaries have in their back pocket.
In the last two seasons, Leidner threw for 4,870 yards and 22 touchdowns. These are steady, but not spectacular numbers. But what Leidner has working for him in his favor is leadership. With all of the controversy engulfing the Minnesota football program the past few months, Leidner and his Gophers’ teammates rallied and defeated Washington State in the National Funding Holiday Bowl.
That is just one example of his ability to lead a team.
“I was able to stay on the field, didn’t miss too many games and continued to push everybody that was around me and make everyone that we could win,” Leidner said. “That’s kind of what I bring to the table, and it’s that I can get guys to believe and win.”
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, racial and social justice, civil rights, and HBCUs. Dennis earned a journalism degree from “The Mecca” aka Howard University. “I write on what I am passionate about.”