When Chuck Pagano got the call to coach in the 2019 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, he saw it as a perfect fit. Not only did he serve as an NFL head coach for the Indianapolis Colts and defensive coordinator for the Ravens, but he also made waves at the collegiate level, heading up the defense at Miami and North Carolina, among other schools. As Pagano prepares to lead the American Team, he took some time to share his thoughts about coaching and how players can best position themselves for success in the NFL.
What do you hope to bring to the Collegiate Bowl?
The most important thing to me is that when we put the group of guys together, we can put together a practice that will allow them to go out and showcase their talents and skillsets. All of us have experience and have been around the game for a long time and have put together practice plans, and the number one thing is to put them in a position to showcase their talents.
What advice can you offer guys trying to get to the next level?
The first thing is nothing comes easy and nothing is for free. You must show up and earn your way. Earn the respect of the organization and the locker room. It is a different group of kids, but at the end of the day, you can’t go in expecting anything. So keep your head down, know your role, do your job, come to work every single day and be a pro. Also, don’t forget that you work amongst a group of men who have been there before you. Utilize the pros in the building. Grab a tape, grab a veteran and seek out advice and when they give it, just listen.
As a former NFL head coach, what advice would you give to the current upcoming generation of players?
Keep your circle small. There are a lot of distractions that come with the NFL and there will be a lot of people pulling at these players. They must be disciplined with their day to day business while they are away from the facility, the free time they have and the choices that they make. We see a lot of great players get sideways because of bad choices that were made. Choices come with consequences and it’s awful hard for young guys who have a lot of money in their pocket.
Don’t go out and spend all of your money. Depending on your type of contract, it is important to take care of your finances and be very smart. Make sure you know and you trust those people in your small circle and get great advice when it comes finances.
Those guys, they have their hand out and they are asking and its hard to say no but you must learn how to say no. So set those boundaries even when it comes to family.
What do you recommend that the athletes know going into the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl to prepare them for the week?
It’s a job interview and they need to come prepared to work, put the time in and do their very best. At the end of the day, it is a job interview and the most important one of their lives. They are going to be nervous because this is a great opportunity to showcase their talents but they need to remember to not put a lot of pressure on themselves and trust in what got them there. Remember, you didn’t get there by chance. The body of work that put you in got you there. Give it everything you got. If you come, do your very best, work your butts off and have fun.
What would you say to the guys who don’t end up getting drafted?
Keep going, pick yourself up and keep moving forward. I know a bunch of guys that didn’t make it the first time around, but they just kept working and kept training. It’s never over because I’ve seen guys come and go and be back in a building five, six, seven times in a season. It’s a small percentage, it’s hard, and there are many stories where it took guys two, three, sometimes four years. If they are ready and they haven’t given up on their dream the opportunity might present itself.
BY DAVID CHOUGH
John Lovett, QB, Princeton
It’s hard enough leading a top-10 team in the country, let alone leading it to a perfect record. But that is exactly what John Lovett has accomplished this season for Princeton. The Tigers are ranked 10th in the FCS coaches poll and finished the year with a resounding victory over their Ivy League rivals, Penn. Of course, striving for perfection and achieving it are two very different things, but Lovett made it look easy in his last game as a college football star.
Though Princeton was firing on all cylinders coming into the game, the very beginnings of its game against Penn looked like there might be some room for error. The Tigers missed a field goal on their opening drive, and even though Penn was not able to capitalize, the Quakers were able to pin Princeton back on its own 20-yard line. But Lovett wasn’t fazed. He immediately led the team down on a seven-play drive that resulted in a gorgeous 42-yard touchdown throw. That Lovett was able to stand in a collapsing pocket was impressive enough, but the fact that he managed to put that much power and touch behind the ball to his receiver made the play even better.
While he created the first touchdown with his arm and set up the second with it, too, the third time Princeton found the end zone was set up by Lovett’s ability to run the ball. He broke free for runs of 7 and 14 yards to keep the drive alive. Then, once the Tigers were in a goal-to-go situation, Lovett ran it to the 3-yard line before throwing a dart to his receiver to put Princeton up 21-0 and the game out of reach for Penn.
Entering the game, Lovett had scored a rushing touchdown in 19 consecutive games and needed just one more to set the Ivy League record. Early in the fourth quarter, Lovett found himself just a few yards away from paydirt on first and goal, so he did what he has done so many times before in his career: he faked the handoff, kept the ball himself, and got an angle past the defenders into the end zone for the historic rushing touchdown.
Lovett finished the game with 255 yards and three touchdowns through the air along with 123 yards on the ground and his one record-breaking score.
Andy Isabella, WR, University of Massachusetts
At this point, Isabella is having such a breakout season that this section should be dedicated to his performances. Just two weeks removed from going off for 303 yards receiving, Isabella once again showed that he can hang with anybody in the country. The senior wideout was nearly unstoppable, hauling in 15 receptions for 219 yards and two touchdowns, including a brilliant 75-yarder on the last play of the third quarter. While the Minutemen have now wrapped up their schedule, there is no doubt that this will be far from the last time that the standout wideout dominates on the gridiron.
Sam Mustipher, C, Notre Dame
Notre Dame have been absolutely demolishing the competition that comes its way, and against No. 12 Syracuse, the Fighting Irish dominated the trenches. Led by senior center Sam Mustipher, the offensive line prevented the Orange defense from getting any real traction, as the Irish methodically kept drives alive and created space for their playmakers to work. Mustipher in particular was key, making the right protection adjustments and getting to the second level to allow whoever was running the ball to go four or even more yards without being touched. When the dust settled, the Irish had decisively beaten the Orange, 36-3.
Oshane Ximines, DE, Old Dominion
The Monarchs have had a roller coaster of a season, with highs like taking down then-ranked Virginia Tech, but their one constant has been the steady pressure by Oshane Ximines. For the third time this season, Ximines registered a pair of quarterback takedowns, and even tacked on two more forced fumbles to put his total at four for the season. His height and power allows him to bully offensive linemen, and he made the most of those opportunities in a 77-14 victory over Virginia Military Institute.
Gardner Minshew, QB, Washington State
Though the column has already mentioned a quarterback above, we would be remiss without mentioning Gardner Minshew’s logic-defying performance against Arizona this past weekend. He threw for a season-high 473 yards and set a school-record for most touchdown passes in a game with seven — all the more impressive considering that Mike Leach has had some perfect quarterbacks for his system the past few years. Minshew absolutely dominated through the air, and it led to a 69-28 win over the Wildcats as the Cougars continue to make a claim to be included in the College Football Playoff.
Every week during the NFL regular season, we will track notable performances by NFL players who participated in the Collegiate Bowl. Here are the top performers from week 11:
Samson Ebukam- LB
Los Angeles Rams
In the exciting 54-51 Rams win on Monday night, Samson Ebukam was the breakout star. In the second quarter on a strip-sack by Aaron Donald, he recorded a fumble recovery touchdown. In the third quarter, he intercepted a pass by Patrick Mahomes and ran it back for his second touchdown of the evening. To end the game, he added a sack and created pressure that forced another Mahomes interception.
Chris Conley- WR
Kansas City Chiefs
Chris Conley had a breakout game as well on Monday, catching seven passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
Josh Lambo- K
Josh Lambo went three for three on Sunday against the Steelers, recording a 48-yard field goal kick.
Every week during the NFL regular season, we will track notable performances by NFL players who participated in the Collegiate Bowl. Here are the top performers from week 9:
Marquez Valdes-Scantling- WR
Green Bay Packers
Marquez Valdes-Scantling has built his trust with Aaron Rodgers over the past nine weeks to become the Packers’ third-leading receiver. In Sunday’s game against the Patriots, the rookie wide receiver finished with three catches for 101 yards, including a 51-yard completion to start the third quarter.
Jatavis Brown- LB
Los Angeles Chargers
Jatavis Brown recorded 11 tackles in Sunday’s win over Seattle, marking his best performance of the season.
Avery Williamson- LB
New York Jets
With 12 tackles and one sack, Avery Williamson recorded his second-highest tackle total of the season during the Jets 13-6 loss to the Dolphins.
BY DAVID CHOUGH
Darrin Hall, RB, Pittsburgh
Darrin Hall has always shown flashes of potential to be a workhorse, game-changing running back. In 2017, he burst onto the scene with a 200-yard effort against Duke, and then followed that up with a few more games going over the century mark.
Entering this weekend, however, Hall had yet to get on track this year. Yes, he had over 100 yards rushing against Syracuse, but that was only the first time he had double-digit carries all season. But with all eyes watching a much-hyped ACC clash with No. 25 Virginia, Hall made sure to make the most of his opportunity.
On his first carry of the game, Hall followed his blockers down the left sideline and raced past everyone for a 41-yard touchdown. He ripped off runs of 13 and 10 yards a few drives later, but it wasn’t until the second half when Hall would get going.
At one point in the third quarter, Hall ran the ball five times in seven plays. And even though he wasn’t ripping the Cavaliers defense for big chunks of yardage, he was moving the chains by following his blockers and lowering his shoulders. By the time the Panthers were knocking at the goal line, the Virginia defense was gassed, allowing Hall to walk into the end zone for a 2-yard score.
Though Virginia answered back with a field goal to pull within one point early in the fourth quarter, Hall wanted to prove just how a workhorse back can break down a defense. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Hall ran up the gut, saw nothing but green grass, and accelerated past the defense to go 75 yards for the score. The next time Pitt had the ball, the senior capped his night and iced the game with a 20-yard dash for first down
Hall finished with 229 yards on 19 carries for an absurd average of 12.1 yards per rush, and his three touchdowns nearly equaled his total on the year entering Friday’s contest. There aren’t many games left in the schedule, but as the weather turns cold and the run game becomes more important, the senior tailback sent a message: give Hall the rock and good things will follow.
Andy Isabella, WR, University of Massachusetts
It’s hard to be considered a breakout player when you’re the leading receiver in the nation, but Isabella somehow managed to do just that in a thrilling triple-overtime matchup against Liberty. Isabella notched nine catches for a school-record 303 yards, including two scores — one of which was an 89-yarder that broke open the floodgates.
Leon McQuaker, LB, New Mexico State
With opponent Alcorn State putting up incredible offensive stats, New Mexico needed an equally Herculean effort from their senior linebacker, and he delivered with a season-high 22 total tackles, 13 of which were solo, in victory.
Brandon Watson, CB, Michigan
Though Watson was not credited with a pass defended, that partially arose from the fact that the ball rarely came his way. And when it did, Watson took advantage, take an interception 62 yards to the house.
Every week during the NFL regular season, we will track notable performances by NFL players who participated in the Collegiate Bowl. Here are the top performers from week 8:
Marquez Valdes Scantling- WR
Green Bay Packers
The rookie wide receiver is developing into a major threat for the Packers offense, as he caught two passes for 45 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown that briefly gave his team the lead in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.
Tarik Cohen- RB
Tarik Cohen again showed off his speed and versatility with five rushes for 40 yards and one catch that he took 70 yards to the end zone in Sunday’s contest with New York.
BY DAVID CHOUGH
Wesley Fields, RB, Georgia Southern
Appalachian State probably had not felt this good about its program since its legendary upset over Michigan. The Mountaineers were riding high at 5-1, sporting a Top 25 ranking in the nation, and they were going to have the perfect stage to show off their newfound success against a high-profile opponent. As it stood, however, Georgia Southern wasn’t about to just roll over and let the Mountaineers have their way. In particular, senior tailback Wesley Fields delivered a memorable performance to grind Appalachian State into a pulp.
It took a little while for the Eagles offense to start rolling, but once opportunities started coming their way, they began to display their vaunted rushing attack. After a costly turnover by the Mountaineers, Fields took one cut and followed the daylight into the end zone to give Georgia Southern a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. Slowly but surely, Fields and the rest of Georgia Southern’s rushing attack began wearing down the Appalachian State defense, a point that would be all to clear starting in the second half.
Fields converted a third down with a beautiful 32-yard run that showed just what makes him so dangerous. The playcall was a simple inside give, but the captain managed to break two arm tackles like they were nothing and keep churning his legs downfield, cutting outside and back in to follow his blockers. Even after the defense managed to get two bodies on him, he rumbled ahead to get more yardage.
The Eagles continued to distribute the carries among their running backs, but Fields got the bulk of them, especially as the game started to unfold in the fourth. With Georgia Southern hammering away at the clock and Appalachian State struggling to find its offense, Fields pushed the Mountaineers into submission on a rush that could be thought of, in a vacuum, as the easiest score that anyone’s ever had. Thanks to his efforts up to that point, Fields was able to find the open hole against a run blitz and jog into the end zone.
What was supposed to be a highly-anticipated and excitable match up turned out to be a one-sided avalanche, as Georgia Southern toppled Appalachian State, 34-14. Fields and the Eagles might not have a ranking next to their name, but at 7-1, they have to feel pretty good knowing that when their star running back is feeling it, as he did with 98 yards on the ground and two touchdowns this past weekend, they have a shot against anybody.
Damion Willis, WR, Troy
The Trojans needed to rebound in a big way after their loss to Liberty last week, and an unlikely hero took the stage for Troy. Willis had not yet eclipsed the 80-yard receiving mark this season, but against South Alabama, he broke out for 132 yards on just five catches.
Josh Allen, LB, Kentucky
With all the offenses around the country seemingly scoring at will, Kentucky is trying to restore some balance to the equation. The Wildcats have had an incredibly stout defense all season long, and it showed up once again in their SEC clash against Missouri. Allen led the way, notching 11 tackles — nine of which were solo, as well as two huge sacks. In case that wasn’t enough, he also showed incredible tenacity and heart in forcing not one but two fumbles in a 15-14 win.
Dakari Monroe, CB, San Jose State
With UNLV deciding to go through the air on offense for much of Saturday’s game, Monroe made the Rebels pay with two outstanding interceptions. Both turnovers showcased not only his ability to get after the ball, but also to burst ahead with speed as he took one 50 yards to the house. The Spartans would go on to win 50-37 for their first victory.
BY DAVID CHOUGH
David Blough, QB, Purdue
D.J. Knox, RB, Purdue
It takes a full team effort to topple the No. 2 school in the country. And while it would be almost impossible to detail every player whose contributions were necessary for Purdue to stage its massive upset of Ohio State on Saturday, it’s most certainly necessary to highlight the efforts of the two men who led the charge: David Blough and D.J. Knox. The backfield duo combined for over 500 yards of offense against the Buckeyes, and they did it in an efficient and collaborative effort.
Early on, it looked like Ohio State’s defensive plan was to force Blough to throw the ball, and the Boilermakers happily obliged. After punting on their first two drives of the game, the senior signal caller eventually made the Buckeyes pay. With the offense backed up on its own two-yard line, Blough calmly directed a 15-play drive that included a three-yard rush to convert a fourth down. Blough and Knox connected for a 23-yard catch and run to set the Boilermakers up in the red zone before Blough threw a gorgeous pass to the end zone that gave Purdue the lead.
With time running down at the end of the half in what was, to that point, a low-scoring affair, the opportunity seemed ripe for Purdue to seize advantage. Knox kickstarted the drive with a 19-yard scamper, and just a few plays later, Blough sprinted out right and threw a bullet on the run to give his receiver a wide-open lane to the end zone and the Boilermakers a 14-3 lead at the half.
When taking on such a highly-ranked squad, it’s important to make the proper adjustments at halftime, and apparently, Purdue’s were to keep the ball in the hands of their starting quarterback and tailback. After getting a second chance at the first drive of the third quarter when Ohio State was called for roughing the kicker, Blough kept the ball moving up until the one-yard line. Then, he turned around and gave the ball to Knox, who delivered with a touchdown to give the Boilermakers a 15-point lead.
With the Ohio State defense now keying in on Purdue’s red-hot quarterback, Knox decided it was time to take matters into his own hands. On a third-down inside draw, he displayed his trademark speed and shiftiness, setting up the single-high safety up with a head fake to the right before taking off into the end zone. In the waning minutes, Knox then took it upon himself to put the dagger in the hearts of the Buckeyes. On perhaps the easiest run of his life, Knox took the handoff on a simple counter and ran down the middle of the field for 40 yards.
With Blough’s 379 yards and three touchdowns and Knox’s 128 yards and three touchdowns of his own, the senior duo took down Ohio State with a convincing 49-20 victory. Though it might be tough for Purdue to make it to the Big Ten championship game, there’s still a bowl berth on the line for them. And given the way these two players balled out on Saturday, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make some more magic memories for Purdue down the stretch.
Michael Dogbe, DL, Temple
The senior Owl has always been a presence on the defensive line for Temple, but pressure doesn’t equate to sacks. Be that as it may, Dogbe has found his groove in taking the quarterback to the ground. After registering zero sacks in 2017, Dogbe already has five on the season, including 1.5 sacks in a crucial overtime victory over Cincinnati.
Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech
Ferguson has already shown his ability to dominate a game when it matters most, including his four-sack performance against North Texas earlier this year. And he was at it again this past weekend against UTEP. With just under two minutes to go and his team clinging to the lead, Ferguson registered a sack to force UTEP to burn a time out. Then on third and goal from the 8-yard line, Ferguson stymied the UTEP offense with another sack for a 12-yard loss. All in all, he finished with 3.5 sacks on the day to preserve victory.
Ronald Cleveland, WR, Air Force
Playing for a service academy means that the wide receivers rarely get time to shine, but Cleveland found himself in the perfect situation against UNLV. As the shootout took off in the second half, Cleveland managed to outdo the UNLV defense, registering 100 yards receiving, including a 69-yard touchdown. Cleveland, who is the school’s active leader in career rushing yards, did damage on the ground as well with 40 yards on six carries.
BY DAVID CHOUGH
Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Ole Miss
It’s never easy being the starting quarterback of an SEC team, but Jordan Ta’amu is doing his best to keep the Ole Miss afloat in the ever-competitive conference. While the Rebels quarterback has been labeled a dual-threat ever since his days as a high school recruit, his arm talent holds up quite well on its own. However, this past weekend’s matchup against Arkansas saw Ta’amu break out every tool he has at his disposal.
After Ta’amu threw an interception and Arkansas converted the turnover into a score that dug a 17-3 deficit, things were looking pretty bleak for Ole Miss. But the senior quarterback bounced right back from that mistake, using his arms and his legs to lead the Rebels on a five-play, 75-yard drive that he capped with an 18-yard scamper into the end zone.
The flood wasn’t plugged quite yet, though as the Razorbacks poured it on later in the half to go up 27-10. With just over two minutes before halftime, Ole Miss desperately needed to get the ball into the end zone. Cue the music. Ta’amu delivered some picturesque passes to all areas of the field, finding four different receivers on the drive before finishing it off with a 6-yard scoring toss that cut the lead to 10.
That momentum poured into the second half, with Ta’amu finding a wideout for 66 yards and a score to start the third quarter. Down two with two minutes to play in regulation, Ole Miss again looked to its quarterback for an answer. Ta’amu delivered once again, masterfully moving the Rebels from their own 3-yard line with big throws and a 15-yard scamper for first down to set up the touchdown that would seal their first SEC win of the season.
During the 37-33 victory, the senior completed nearly 75 percent of his 35 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns, while also chipping in with 141 yards rushing and a score. Given the way the game broke, the Rebels needed every last one of those yards, and there’s sure to be plenty more to come in the games that will follow. It isn’t easy, but when Ta’amu is leading the Rebels, there’s always a chance.
Kyle Rachwal, LB, Eastern Michigan
Rachwal looks the part of an intimidating force over the middle, and on the off chance that anyone doubted it, he showed just why he’s a terror to opposing offenses with his performance against Toledo. The senior registered 11 total tackles, posted a sack, and even displayed his ability to disrupt passing lanes with a pass break up as the Eagles won 28-26.
Wesley Fields, RB, Georgia Southern
The going was tough against Texas State, but Fields never stopped believing in himself, and the team put its trust in him as well. In a low-scoring affair, Fields churned out 93 yards and one touchdown to pave the way in a 15-13 victory.
Juwan Foggie, LB, Charlotte
Western Kentucky might be known as the Hilltoppers, but Foggie was most certainly at the top of his game this past Saturday. He was all over the field, registering eight tackles (seven of them solo) and was a menace in the backfield, including one sack. Of course, his coup de grace was when he snagged a pair of passes of interceptions for the 49ers as they cruised to a 40-14 win.
Every week during the NFL regular season, we will track notable performances by NFL players who participated in the Collegiate Bowl. Here are the top performers from Week 6:
Marquez Valdes Scantling- WR
Green Bay Packers
With his game-breaking speed, the rookie is becoming one of Aaron Rodgers’s go-to guys, as he caught three passes for 103 yards in the Packers’ win over the 49ers.
Tarik Cohen- RB
After a Week 5 bye, Tarik Cohen was back in full force against the Dolphins. He finished the game with seven catches for 90 yards and 31 yards on five carries, including a 21-yard touchdown run.
Avery Williamson- LB
New York Jets
Williamson continued his big year with six tackles, two pass deflections and an interception against the Colts.
Duron Harmon- Safety
New England Patriots
The veteran defender continued to find himself at the right place at the right time during the Patriots game against the Chiefs. With three tackles and one interception, Harmon was able to help his team hold off the Chiefs for the win.