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  • Players From Small Schools Find NFL Homes

    Players from small schools find NFL homes
    By R.B. FALLSTROM, AP Sports Writer

    ST. LOUIS (AP)—Last fall, Keith Null and Mike Reilly were opposing quarterbacks combining for 91 points, 883 yards passing and eight touchdowns in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

    Never in their wildest dreams did the small-time gunslingers from West Texas A&M and Central Washington think they’d end up St. Louis Rams teammates.

    “It’s very weird that it happened that way,” Null said. “Pretty cool, too, to have another guy in the league that was a Division II quarterback.”

    It’s quite a jump to make at any position, even if the Rams are 1-14 and closing in on the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft. The vast majority of NFL rosters are populated by players accustomed to refining their game where television time-outs are commonplace.

    Entering the last two weeks of the season, according to the NFL and the Rams, only 72 players were on the 53-man rosters or injured reserve from college’s lower divisions, including 49 of them from Division II.

    In addition, nine players came from Division III, four from NAIA schools, two who didn’t make it past junior college, five from foreign colleges and two who had zero college experience.

    That’s just over two players per team.

    “It’s kind of few and far between us,” Reilly said. “Let alone somebody you played against.”

    The Rams and Redskins each had five lower-division players, while the Cardinals, Eagles, Bears, Lions and Browns had four each and the Texans three, one of them on injured reserve.

    Precious few are recognizable names. Perhaps the best known current player is Redskins linebacker London Fletcher (Division III John Carroll), who began his career with St. Louis and has 10 straight 100-tackle seasons. Maybe you’ve heard of these Division II alumni: Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver (Carson Newman), Cardinals guard Reggie Wells (Clarion) and Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox (Abilene Christian).

    Needles in a haystack, all. And it’s tough enough making your mark coming out of Southern California, Texas or Michigan.

    “There’s a learning curve no matter where you played or whether you’re a first-round pick,” Rams general manager Billy Devaney said. “Now add in the fact you’re coming from a smaller school and that learning curve’s going to be longer, especially at certain positions. This is almost like a redshirt year for those guys.”

    Null’s NFL baptism has been rocky, with nine interceptions and a lost fumble to go with three touchdown passes in three games. One of the picks in Sunday’s loss at Arizona was by rookie Greg Toler, the first player drafted out of Division II St. Paul’s College (Va.).

    At least he’s playing. Another Division II product, guard Roger Allen III from Missouri Western, is set to make his first career start this Sunday, against the *****.

    “Everybody in the league, they evaluated Null, they evaluated Allen, all the other guys,” Devaney said. “We just see some talent and ability while understanding we kind of label them as projects and developmental guys. They’ve got skills, they just need refinement.”

    Null did enough at West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas, putting up huge numbers and showing off a strong arm, to persuade the Rams to take him in the sixth round of last April’s draft. The Rams didn’t anticipate using Null during his rookie season before injuries to Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller forced their hand.

    He threw five interceptions in his debut at Tennessee and has added five more turnovers since, but he’s gotten high marks for composure during the on-the-job training.

    Reilly, who spent the preseason with Pittsburgh and had a brief stint with the Packers, began his college career at Division I Washington State before transferring. He was a four-year starter at Central Washington and holds the NCAA all-divisions record with at least one touchdown pass in 46 career games.

    “It was a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Reilly said. “I made it to my ultimate goal and have been given this opportunity a lot of people would kill for, so I’m happy.”

    Before landing with the Rams, Reilly and Null knew each other by reputation and from their experience on the field in their Division II playoff shootout. They’ve spent countless hours in meeting rooms the last several weeks with enough free time to compare notes on the unusual route they’ve taken to the NFL.

    “When Keith got drafted we were all really excited for him,” Reilly said. “It’s kind of a fraternity, a small group of guys. To have us both in this locker room, it’s pretty cool.”

  • #2
    Re: Players From Small Schools Find NFL Homes

    Some of this article irks me. If these smaller school players are like finding a needle in a haystack why are we (2-14) 2008 taking a chance on any of them?
    Last edited by laram0; -12-30-2009, 06:31 AM.
    sigpic :ram::helmet:


    • #3
      Re: Players From Small Schools Find NFL Homes

      Originally posted by laram0 View Post
      Some of this article irks me. If these smaller school players are like finding a needle in a haystack why are we (2-14) 2008 taking a chance on any of them?
      Maybe they are always on the lookout for another DIV 1-AA, AFL, and NFLE QB?

      Granted it isn't quite as rare for Div 1-AA players to get a look, but not a lot 'stick'. Our local University has produced about 30 NFL players over the years. The only current players which come to mind would be Chris Gocong (Eagles), Courtney Brown (Cowboys), and Ramses Barden (Giants).

      Cal Poly also, of course, was where John Madden played his football. >8)

      It seem a Jerry Rice was also a 1-AA player....

      THAT would be reason enough to keep looking for that needle but be careful as some are quite sharp!

      GO RAMS!!


      • #4
        Re: Players From Small Schools Find NFL Homes

        Some good quarterbacks came from small schools to star in the NFL. Phil Simms went to Morehead State. Kurt Warner went to Northern Iowa. My choice in the Rams' annual '70's QB controversy, Ron Jaworski, was a product of Youngstown State. Who knows where the Rams would have gone with McCutcheon running the ball and "The Polish Rifle" slingin the ball deep to Jackson and Jessie? Yes, I agree that teams take chances drafting these guys, but every now and then you find a good one. Personally, I think Null has shown that with further experience, work, and learning, he can play in this league. He does look better than Peyton Manning's backup!


        • #5
          Re: Players From Small Schools Find NFL Homes

          Look at Miles Austin. He went to Monmouth which is 15 minutes away from me. It's a rarity for them to become solid players like him but hey it can happen.
          Always and Forever a fan of the St. Louis Rams


          Related Topics


          • r8rh8rmike
            Small Schools Make Big Contribution To St. Louis Rams' Roster
            by r8rh8rmike
            Small schools make big contribution to St. Louis Rams' roster

            BY BILL COATS

            Stuck at an out-of-the-way school in Canyon, Texas, Keith Null wondered how NFL scouts would find him.

            "They're going every which way around the U.S.," Null said. "For them to take time out to come to Division II schools, (the chance) is pretty slim."

            The Rams found Null at West Texas A&M, where he passed for 5,097 yards and 48 touchdowns his senior year. They drafted him in the sixth round last April.

            Null is the exception, however. Although a number of players from non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools have put together fine NFL careers, their path to the league is littered with roadblocks.

            Yet nine of 53 players on the Rams' active roster — plus two more on the eight-man practice squad — have motored their way along that path to the NFL. The small-school players make up 18 percent of the workforce at coach Steve Spagnuolo's behest.

            Contrast that to the Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh Steelers, who have four small-school products among their 61 players, or about 6.5 percent of coach Mike Tomlin's talent base.

            Of the 11 Rams, only Null and cornerback Ron Bartell (second round, 2005) were drafted. The rest arrived as free agents and, despite long odds, found a way to stick. That group produced three current starters — Bartell, safety Craig Dahl and linebacker Paris Lenon — as well as wideout Laurent Robinson, the Rams' leading receiver before he suffered a season-ending leg injury.


            NFL scouts fan across the country looking for prospects, and they don't ignore the smaller colleges. But they don't spend nearly as much time scouring their rosters for prospects.

            "Those big-time programs, they have scouts coming through all the time," running back Samkon Gado noted. "If you have a bad day, you have the benefit of hopefully doing a better workout the next time the scout comes through. When I was at (Football Championship Subdivision) Liberty, there was only one day. And you had to be 'on' that day."

            Guard Roger Allen said he didn't see a single scout his junior season at Division II Missouri Western State. They began to trickle in during his senior year.

            "It's an uphill battle," he said.

            Allen and Null are the only non-FBS rookies on the active roster.

            Tight end Daniel Fells, from FCS California-Davis, said scouts are wary because the talent pool is limited in smaller divisions.

            "Guys kind of get pegged as, 'Well, the competition level is not necessarily up to par,'" he said. "You're not getting too many guys recognized, whether it's that they're undersized, not as fast, not as big, whatever it may be."...
            -10-16-2009, 01:43 PM
          • RamFan_Til_I_Die
            Rams hoping to strike gold again at QB
            by RamFan_Til_I_Die
            Rams hoping to strike gold again at QB
            BY JIM THOMAS


            He put up great numbers at the small-college level. He's an unabashed man of God whose pregame ritual includes reading the Bible. He once worked in a grocery store. Has been known to sport a 5 o'clock shadow. And just like you-know-who, he has come to the Rams deep from the heart of nowhere.

            OK, show of hands. When you heard the Rams might select a quarterback in the 2009 draft, how many had Keith Null, the pride of West Texas A&M, in the pool?

            Well, here he is, at the Rams minicamp this weekend. And yes, he's a big Kurt Warner fan.

            He's definitely a guy I look up to," Null said. "Just really out there with his spiritual life, and gives God all the glory for everything he does. I look up to that, extremely."

            Null put up extreme numbers in two seasons as a starter at West Texas A&M, an NCAA

            Division II school in Canyon, Texas. Null holds 22 school, Lone Star Conference or NCAA records. He

            finished his college career with 9,769 yards passing, a completion percentage of 67.5, and 92 touchdown passes. Seeing that Null played sparingly in his first two college seasons, those are staggering numbers.

            "We threw the ball probably 95 percent of the time in that offense," Null said.

            Null went out in a blaze of glory, completing 42 of 63 passes for 595 yards, seven TDs and no interceptions in his final college game. Believe it or not, West Texas A&M lost that Division II playoff game 93-68 to Abilene Christian.

            Somehow, Null escaped the attention of bigger colleges playing at Lampasas High, about an hour north of Austin in central Texas. The town of Lampasas (pop. 6,786) is known for its annual Spring Ho Festival, and is mentioned in the Hank Williams Jr. song, "Texas Women."

            "I think just somehow I slipped through the cracks," said Null, who wants to be a minister when his playing days are finished. "West Texas A&M found me, and it was a perfect fit for me. I was glad to go there."

            But how did the Rams find him?

            "The scouts," Rams general manager Billy Devaney said, noting that scout Steve Kazor "was there on the school call."

            But it wasn't until the Cactus Bowl, a Division II all-star game in Kingsville, Texas, that the Rams really got interested. With offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and scout Dick Daniels in attendance, Null was named Cactus Bowl MVP after completing a bowl-record 19 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns.

            Northeastern (Okla.) State wide receiver Jarrett Byers, who was signed Monday by the Rams as a rookie free agent, had the longest play from scrimmage in the Cactus Bowl, catching a 48-yarder from Null.

            "I turned it...
            -05-03-2009, 09:40 AM
          • RamDez
            Rams happy with Day 2 results
            by RamDez
            By R.B. FALLSTROM | AP Sports Writer
            April 26, 2009
            ST. LOUIS - At first blush, the St. Louis Rams' third-round pick may not seem to fit the organization's oft-stated desire to populate the roster with character players.

            The team is convinced Iowa cornerback Bradley Fletcher's DUI in 2007 is an isolated case, so they took him Sunday to begin Day 2 of the draft.

            "We did our due diligence thoroughly with this guy and it kept coming back that he messed up, he made a mistake," general manager Billy Devaney said. "We weren't going to take anybody off the draft board just because they made a mistake or did something silly that a lot of college kids do.

            "We had everybody vouch for him at Iowa that he's a strong character guy."
            The Rams picked 312-pound defensive tackle Darell Scott, a three-year starter at nose guard for Clemson, in the fourth round. They waited until the fifth before addressing a shortage at wide receiver by taking Brooks Foster of North Carolina, dipped into Division II for prolific West Texas A&M quarterback Keith Null in the sixth and took Texas running back Chris Ogbonnaya in the seventh.

            Ryan Leaf, the former No. 2 overall NFL draft pick in 1998, was Null's quarterback coach for most of three seasons before resigning during an investigation for a drug crime last November. Devaney was with the Chargers when they selected Leaf, one of the all-time NFL busts, and did not consult Leaf about the pick.

            "I don't want to say you can't hold that against the guy," Devaney said. "It was kind of weird the way it worked out."

            On Day 1, the Rams took Baylor offensive Jason Smith with the second overall pick and added a linebacker with first-round grades, Ohio State's James Laurinaitis, in the second round.

            "We're like 31 other teams, we're pleased with the way it went," Devaney said. "For the most part, it went according to plan."

            The 6-foot, 196-pound Fletcher blossomed as a senior, when had three interceptions, a team-leading 10 pass breakups and was fifth in tackles. He was arrested in 2007 after running a stop sign.

            "That situation is something that I learned from," Fletcher said. "I made a mistake and I learned from it and Im ready to move forward."

            Scott, like Fletcher, fits coach Steve Spagnuolo's wish for larger players. He was on the Outland Trophy watch list as a senior before struggling due to a knee sprain, with numbers dropping off everywhere except for tackles for loss.

            "It wasn't the season I had hoped for," Scott said. "We had a young group of guys and I was forced to take a lot bigger role than I had previously, so it was OK."

            The Rams like Scott's quickness and pass rush ability for a big player and believe he can fit into a rotation....
            -04-27-2009, 01:34 AM
          • eldfan
            How do you judge a Ram?
            by eldfan
            How do you judge a Ram?
            By Andy Dapron

            Well, Keith Null’s debut as a starting quarterback certainly went well. Now that we’ve all watched Null humiliate himself and the Rams with his one-touchdown, five-interception performance in a 47-7 drubbing at the hands of the Tennessee Titans Sunday, I hope everybody can stop clamoring to see him and realize that he just…

            Just kidding. I’m just trying to stir people up (because, after all, I don’t think people are riled up enough about the state of the Rams these days). Truth be told, I thought Null acquitted himself pretty well Sunday. No, his numbers (27 of 43 passing, 157 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT, 37.8 QB rating) aren’t going to cause anyone to hail him as “The Answer” to the Rams’ lingering question at quarterback. However, his mentality seemed right. He stayed calm in the pocket. He wasn’t afraid to take shots deep when they were called for (which still wasn’t that often, but given the circumstances yesterday, that’s understandable). He never looked rattled or overwhelmed, and despite getting knocked down repeatedly, he kept getting back up. He kept fighting. That’s about as much as you could ask from the guy.

            Besides, Null had the deck stacked against him in just about every conceivable way against the Titans. To begin with, Null’s background hasn’t exactly positioned him to make a big rookie splash in the NFL. He comes from the football factory that is West Texas A&M. He ran a spread offense there, which is notorious for being nowhere near a pro-style offense. As if being a rookie third string quarterback from a small school wasn’t enough, Null had to go on the shortest of notice. He discovered that he was the starter during pregame warmups, when presumptive starter Kyle Boller declared himself insufficiently healed from a deep thigh bruise to play. He had to match up against a Tennessee defense that stakes its entire reputation on punching people in the mouth, and was desperate to win this game to keep their playoff hopes alive.

            Worst of all for Null, the offense he was asked to lead was the Rams’ offense. This offense was inept by nearly every measure long before Null was asked to try and run it.

            Actually, if anything struck me yesterday, it was how impossible it really is to get a read on Null, or, for that matter, any player or coach on this team. There’s a reason football is known as the the ultimate team sport. All the best teams (think Colts, Saints, Patriots, or even the Rams of a decade ago) have players who achieve a kind of synergy with each other. Each of them does their jobs well, and they can count on their teammates to do their jobs well, too. Good teams have 11 players in the right place at the right time.

            When one or two players find themselves overmatched, or out of position, well… think of a string of Christmas tree lights: one light goes out, and the whole strand goes out.

            -12-14-2009, 07:48 PM
          • MauiRam
            Null, others battling for Rams roster spots ..
            by MauiRam
            BY JIM THOMAS Thursday, September 2, 2010 10:45 am

            After starting the final four games last season because of injuries to Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller, Keith Null talked hopefully of having a chance to compete for the starting job in 2010.

            But that was before the Rams invested the No. 1 overall draft pick in quarterback Sam Bradford. And brought in A.J. Feeley, a veteran schooled in the West Coast scheme, and who had worked with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur previously in Philadelphia.

            So as the Rams enter their final preseason game, aka the Bubble Bowl, Null is fighting for a roster spot tonight against Baltimore. (Kickoff is 7 p.m. at the Edward Jones Dome.)

            "I feel like I've made some strides and I've taken the opportunities that I've gotten and used them to the best of my ability," Null said. "That's really all I can do is just go out there and do my best on that field. And I think that's what I've done."

            A sixth-round pick last season from NCAA Division II West Texas A&M, Null was something of a feel-good story for the Rams. But feelings don't have much to do with what takes place this time of year in the NFL. It's all about business — the business of trimming the roster from 75 players to the regular-season limit of 53 by Saturday evening.

            "I don't think anybody in this business can ever really get comfortable," Null said. "I think once you do that, then you're not really giving out your full effort — you're not really competing like you should. I still feel like I'm trying to get here (on the final 53), and even get on the field somehow."

            By the numbers, Null has been clearly outplayed so far by Thaddeus Lewis, an undrafted rookie from Duke. Lewis has completed 16 of 20 passes for 166 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, for a 97.1 passer rating. Null has completed only 10 of 27 for 101 yards, with no TDs, no INTs and a 48.5 passer rating.

            But Null did lead the Rams to fourth-quarter rallies against Cleveland and New England. Those comeback victories should count for something, right?

            "Who knows?" Null said, laughing. "I guess it's for you guys to decide on those things."

            Not exactly. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has final say on the makeup of the 53-man roster, in consultation with his coaching staff and general manager Billy Devaney. Bubble players have one last chance tonight to impress the head coach, or maybe even change his mind.

            "We have talked in these terms right from the beginning — that guys are evaluated on their productivity, their character, their ability to learn, and their durability," Spagnuolo said. "So, you've got to be a durable guy, you've got to produce out on the field, you've got to be a character guy, and you've got to learn the system.

            "At this point,...
            -09-02-2010, 11:00 AM