Senior, Shrine bowls cap busy college all-star season for local players

NFL Draft hopefuls from the state are looking to showcase their skills

Charlotte wide receiver Grant DuBose will compete in Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. (Chris Carlson / AP Photo)

Two of the biggest remaining games on the college football all-star circuit take place this weekend. The East-West Shrine Bowl kicks off on Friday in Las Vegas, with Bill Belichick coaching one team against a selection of Atlanta Falcons coaches on the other sideline.

The Senior Bowl then takes place in Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday with staffs from the Bears and Raiders coaching the teams.

The games bring to a close two-plus months of spotlight events where college players can try to make a name for themselves as the NFL Draft process shifts into high gear. It started in early December with the FCS Bowl, and nearly a dozen games were on the schedule, capped by the HBCU Legacy Bowl, which will take place in three weeks.

Nearly two dozen players from local colleges have already appeared in at least one college all-star game this offseason, and a large group of players is expected to participate in this week’s two games.

Appalachian State will be one of the schools in the spotlight this weekend. The Mountaineers have a pair of players on the Senior Bowl rosters, as well as one player in the Shrine Bowl.

Linebacker Nick Hampton and running back Camerun Peoples will be on the National roster in the Senior Bowl, while quarterback Chase Brice will be throwing passes in the Shrine Bowl.

Hampton was an All-Sun Belt first-teamer after finishing second in the conference in sacks per game and leading FBS in forced fumbles per game.

Peoples rushed for 2,830 yards in 36 games, topping 100 in nine of them. Brice, who began his career as a backup at Clemson and then transferred to Duke for a season, has started for App the past two seasons. He also played in the Hula Bowl last month.

The Mountaineers will try to follow in the footsteps of other App State players who have improved their draft stock so far this offseason.

Cornerback Dexter Lawson Jr. raised eyebrows at the College Gridiron Showcase, and corner Steven Jones helped himself at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

Tackle Anderson Hardy (Hula) and offensive lineman Cooper Hodges (NFLPA Collegiate) also took part in games.

Two other in-state products round out the Senior Bowl National Team roster: UNC lineman Asim Richards and Charlotte receiver Grant DuBose.

Richards started 38 of 48 games at UNC and was third-team ACC. Dubose had 126 catches, 1,684 yards and 15 touchdowns the last two years.

While Richards is the lone Tar Heel in the Senior Bowl, teammate Antoine Green will take part in the Shrine Bowl. He was third-team All-ACC this season with 43 catches, 798 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Shrine Bowl also features a trio of Wake Forest players: Wide receiver AT Perry, tight end Blake Whiteheart and defensive lineman Kobie Turner. Perry and Whiteheart both earned recognition for their performance on the first day of Shrine Bowl practices to start this week.

Linebacker Ryan Smenda (Hula) was the only other Demon Deacon to play on the all-star circuit.

Three NC State players will be on Shrine Bowl rosters: offensive lineman Chandler Zavala and linebackers Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas.

Thomas made some big plays on defense during the early days of Shrine Bowl practice, including a pair of interceptions one day, which, combined with his on-field performance for the Wolfpack during his college career, could help him overcome the early draft process criticism that he’s undersized for NFL linebacker. There were also good reports on Moore during individual workouts.

Lineman Bryson Speas (College Gridiron Showcase), kicker Christopher Dunn (Hula), punter Shane McDonough (Hula) and defensive lineman Cory Durden (NFLPA Collegiate) all represented State at earlier games.

Edge rusher Brevin Allen will represent Campbell in the Shrine Bowl. He got the invitation after a Hula Bowl appearance, where he was joined by teammate Julian Hill, who played tight end for the Camels. Allen’s raw power rushing the passer makes him attractive as a development prospect for an NFL team.

Duke linebacker Shaka Heyward will take part in the Shrine Bowl. Heyward impressed during individual workouts and was considered by many to be one of the top linebackers on the roster, along with State’s Drake Thomas. Teammate Darius Joiner, a safety, and long snapper Evan Deckers took part in the Hula Bowl.

Punter Ethan Evans of Wingate rounds out the local contingent at the Shrine Bowl. He previously took part in the Hula Bowl.

While they won’t be represented in this weekend’s showcases, some other players from schools around the state who have been chosen for postseason all-star games include Elon quarterback Matthew McKay and corner Cole Coleman (College Gridiron Showcase), NC A&T receiver Zachary Leslie and lineman Dacquari Wilson (College Gridiron Showcase), and four ECU Pirates.

Quarterback Holton Ahlers appeared in the Hula Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. He was joined by tackle Noah Henderson, who impressed at the Hula Bowl, and receiver CJ Johnson (NFLPA Collegiate). Receiver Isaiah Winstead also improved his stock at the College Gridiron Showcase.