Back in 2019, as Darnell Mooney waited to see if he’d be invited to a postseason all-star showcase, the-then Tulane receiver remembers thinking, “All I need is an opportunity.”
That lone opportunity came through the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl – and the rest has literally been history. After standing out during the 2020 game at Rose Bowl Stadium and getting drafted with the No. 173 overall pick by the Chicago Bears, Mooney shattered the franchise record for most catches by a rookie wide receiver with 61. His catch total also tied another guy whom you’ve probably heard of for the fourth-most ever by an NFL rookie drafted in the fifth round or later – Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs. Mooney continued his ascent this year, becoming just the 18th Bear to record a 1,000-yard receiving season while evolving into a favorite target for quarterback Justin Fields.
Now as a member of the prestigious Collegiate Bowl 10th Anniversary Team, Mooney recently reflected on his experience and how it helped pave the way for his instant NFL success.
What was your initial reaction when you got that invite from the Collegiate Bowl?
Well, it was my only one, so I was pretty excited. For me, it was just another opportunity to put my name out there and showcase my talent.
What was your mindset going into that week?
I wanted to get noticed by scouts and learn about the NFL while I was there, and I definitely did both of those things. I wasn’t used to talking about myself, and it’s still not really my favorite thing [laughs]. I usually let my work on the field do the talking. So having to be vocal and sort of sell myself to the scouts was different. It put me out of my comfort zone, but it also gave me that experience and has helped prepare for me what comes with being at the NFL level.
With former NFL head coaches and Hall of Famers on the coaching staffs, were there any tips or takeaways that stuck with you?
[American Coach] Hue [Jackson] gave us some good insight on how the NFL is and he had us practice and do plays that we would see at the professional level. The receiver coaches were good and pretty funny. Honestly, practices were bigger than the game. You knew you were doing good based on how many people came up to you after practice. And seeing how many scouts were there definitely motivated us all.
Looking back on your experience, how much of a role did the Collegiate Bowl play in where you are now?
I felt like I proved myself and showed that any team drafting me was getting a diamond. After talking with the scouts and getting coached up that week, I felt confident that I’d get drafted; I just didn’t know when or where. It also taught me that I can talk about myself when I have to and also show it on the field. All in all, the experience and sessions help show you that football is a business. You want to have fun while you’re playing, but at the same time, it’s a business, so you have to treat it like that. It taught me how to be comfortable while being uncomfortable and pushed me to accept the challenge in front of me.