There have been 91 editions of the East-Wine Shrine Game played, and just like a fine wine, the game itself, or better yet the importance of it (in more ways than one), simply get better with age and maturity. The premise of the game has always been to showcase the collegiate football talent from the US and beyond, while the perspective has been equally as straightforward, which is, to benefit the young lives in dire need at the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children all across the country. If the Senior Bowl in Mobile has become the beautifully wrapped present on the outside, full of shiny first and second round-potential prospects on the inside, then the East-West Shrine is the box, the nondescript, unheralded-yet-absolutely-essential cardboard (or whatever material needed) package that protected that shiny gift through the harsh process of delivery to its destination. If not for the box standing up to the pressure of all the elements in-transit, everybody goes home empty-handed (and quite angry).
Franchises in the National Football League are just as dependent on the boxes as we are, if not more. Over the years, exponential stories emerge raising awareness to the fact that without players from rounds three to seven along with undrafted free agency, those players in the “primetime” would like rather pedestrian compared to their hype, or at least be set-up for failure, rather than success in most cases. Those “gifts” or better yet gifted talents do not fair well without solid support around them, especially in their initial seasons as professionals. Without players that come from the lower rounds, without the foundation and support frame around the *sometimes* fragile pieces of *always* insanely expensive equipment, the transit towards winning a championship can damage the gift beyond repair without chance of an insurance claim.
While you may feel like the Senior Bowl gives you what you want, the East-West Shrine gives you what you need–if you’re paying attention. The game embodies the entire philosophy that “they’ll find you” no matter where you played ball in college, as long as you make plays when the lights are shining the brightest. You’ll be in front of (literally) thousands of eyes representing all 32 teams during the week of practice and in the game. Its the ultimate risk-reward. Players will even come from Canada, from places like Montreal and Manitoba. They will come from more than just the FBS level–places like Samford. They will come from P-5 schools that may have lost their way and out of the conscience of the public like Illinois and Purdue, showing yet again, they will find you. They will even come from high schools that are not exactly known for being the “factories” around here like Spoto and Strawberry Crest.
Ask the Falcons, the Packers, the Chiefs, the Cowboys or the Steelers what it has meant to find their perfect packaging for their precious gift via this game the past couple of seasons. Southeast High School and University of Florida CB Brian Poole had a 99-yard interception in this game last season, which did not get him automatically drafted, but caught the eyes of the Atlanta Falcons, who signed him as an UDFA. Poole will be playing this weekend for the Falcons after a solid rookie season 59 tackles (43 solo), a sack, an interception and ten passes defensed.
Across the line of scrimmage from him this weekend in Atlanta, (both playing for an NFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl we might add), will be another alumnus of this game from 2016 and at wideout for Green Bay. Spoto’s own, and University of Illinois’ own, WR Geronimo Allison. It was Allison who led all receivers from both sides with 11 targets, receptions and touchdowns in this game in 2016. Allison was instrumental in Randall Cobb’s absence down the regular season stretch with 8 receptions on 13 targets
for 177 yards and a touchdown the last two games to help the Packers guarantee their postseason spot. Just in case you were wondering, Allison was also an undrafted free agent.
The Chiefs found their current starting left tackle in this game. In 2014, a French- Canadian mauler from Montreal, who also happened to be entering med school simultaneously named Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff played in this game impressing scouts to the point they signed him in the sixth round. He now anchors one side of the line in his third season in addition to finishing med school this year.
Former Purdue Boilermaker, or better yet Hillsborough High Terrier Anthony Brown played in this game last season and was spectacular. So much so, the Cowboys took him the sixth round. With all of the injuries in Dallas on 2016-17, Brown found himself in the mix in the Cowboys’ Secondary from the midpoint and beyond finishing with 55 tackles, 8 passes defensed, a forced fumble and an interception his rookie season. In 2015, Anthony Chickillo, from the University of Miami and Alonso High School was a monster in this game and caught the attention of the Steelers and was taken in the sixth round. Not only does Chickillo find himself playing a factor in his second season, he’s already playing for an AFC Championship and a chance at the Lombardi Trophy.
Who might be in this position to be the protective box sooner rather than later? UF and Pasco High alumni Joey Ivie IV (DL) has gone from “off to a good start” on Monday’s practice, to “killing it” on Thursday. Karel Hamilton from Samford University and Strawberry Crest can now call himself Samford’s All-Time Receiving Leader with 3,803 yards and 31 touchdowns in his career in Birmingham. One of the most heralded recruits from four years ago was Armwood’s Leon McQuay III. He may have gone to Los Angeles, but he continued to “Hawk” mentality from Seffner that we saw finishing with 123 tackles (82 solo), 16 passes broken up, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles for the Trojans. Ivie IV will be playing for the EASt squad, while Hamilton and L3 will be representing the West squad.
The game just announced its pairing with the NFL and its resources to provide coaches and referees back in December, which is another positive development during its maturation process. The Head Coach for the East is Arizona Cardinal Defensive Line coach, Brenston Buckner, while the West will be coached by Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator, George Edwards. The game kicks off at 3:00pm at Tropicana Field in Saint Petersburg.