NC products head to Super Bowl

Players, coaches, front office from the Tarheel State will be represented in New Orleans

Rams running back Todd Gurley, a native of Tarboro, dives into the end zone for a touchdown Los Angeles’ NFC championship game win over the Saints on Sunday in New Orleans. (David J. Phillip / AP Photo)

Todd Gurley was thrilled that the Rams made it to the Super Bowl.

In addition to getting to play in the biggest game in all of sports, the Rams running back will get another chance to have an impact on his team’s run for a championship.

Gurley, the team’s leading rusher since the team drafted him in 2015, had only four carries for 10 yards in the NFC championship game win over the Saints, although he did have a touchdown that helped Los Angeles come back from an early 13-0 deficit.

Gurley denied reports that he was injured, saying he was just “sorry as hell” during the game.

“That’s why I was so emotional,” he said. “Just to get another opportunity. I’m so grateful to be playing on the biggest stage ever.”

The Tarboro alumnus also returns his high school to the spotlight. Gurley will attempt to be the second Tarboro player to win a Super Bowl ring, joining Kelvin Bryant, who won one with the Redskins in 1987.

Gurley is far from the only member of the Rams or Patriots with connections to the Old North State, although he’s probably the most important North Carolina product who will be on the field in two Sundays.

Gurley suffered a minor knee injury late in the regular season, and, as an insurance policy, the Rams signed C.J. Anderson, who started the year on the Panthers roster. He was released in mid-November after rushing for 104 yards in nine games with the Panthers.

Anderson rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns in a playoff win over Dallas, then added 44 in the win over New Orleans. It was the first time in four games as a Ram that Anderson didn’t score or top 100 yards.

The Rams also have plenty of North Carolina connections who won’t be on the field for the Super Bowl.

Former Tar Heel receiver Austin Proehl is a member of the team’s practice squad. The Charlotte native has spent time with the Buffalo, Tennessee and L.A. practice squads in his first year as a pro.

Former Duke safety Matt Daniels is an assistant special teams coach for the Rams. He spent his first two of his four NFL seasons with the Rams before moving on to coaching.

Bill Nayes is a member of the Rams operations staff with the title of assistant to the head coach. He spent two years in a similar role at NC State as Dave Doeren’s director of football operations from 2013-14.

Former Wolfpack defensive lineman and Winston-Salem native Ray Agnew is the Rams’ director of pro personnel.

The Patriots have four players with N.C. connections, led by Joe Thuney, who should set an NFL record. In his third year out of NC State, the offensive lineman is scheduled to start his third straight Super Bowl joining a handful of 1990s Bills and 1970s Dolphins to start the big game in each of their first three seasons. Only 10 other players matched Thuney with Super Bowl starts in their first two seasons.

Thuney will also become just the second Wolfpack player to play in as many as three straight Super Bowls. Jim Richter was in four straight with the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s. The only other Wolfpack players to even reach two Super Bowls in their career are San Francisco kicker Mike Cofer, Pats/Titans defensive end Mike Jones, Giants corner Perry Williams and three Seahawks — kicker Steven Hauschka, quarterback Russell Wilson and lineman J.R. Sweezy.

With the Seahawks reaching the Super Bowl in 2014 and 2015, the Panthers, with receiver Jerricho Cotchery, going in 2016, and the Patriots each of the last three years, State has had a player in the Super Bowl for six straight years. That’s the second-longest stretch in history, behind a nine-year run from 1989 to 1997.

The Pats also feature tight end Dwayne Allen. The seven-year pro is a Fayetteville native and alumnus of Terry Sanford High. He’s headed to his second straight Super Bowl with the Pats after getting three catches in 13 regular season games. He appeared in both of this year’s playoff games, starting one.

Keion Crossen, a rookie out of Western Carolina, is set to play in his first Super Bowl after getting 14 tackles in 11 regular season games and three in the postseason. The Garysburg-born Crossen graduated from Gaston’s Northampton County High.

The final Patriot North Carolinian is defensive end Derek Rivers, who graduated from Kinston High. After missing all of his 2017 rookie year with a torn ACL, Rivers has appeared in just six games and one playoff contest this year.