ProGrass game gives D-II, interntional players shot of exposure
After a lengthy, successful career as a football coach, which included 10 seasons at California University, many thought it would be hard for John Luckhardt to step away from the game when he announced his retirement after the 2011 season.
And it was.
Luckhardt, the winningest coach in Cal U history, is back in the college game in another capacity as one of the driving forces behind the ProGrass International Scout Bowl, which will be played Friday at the University of North Alabama in Florence.
The game will feature some of the top players from Division II schools, as well as a smattering of players from Division I, III and NAIA programs and will include players from outside the United States.
The ProGrass International Scout Bowl will take the top 82 prospects from graduating collegiate seniors to free agents from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe that need a “second chance” to show they have what it takes to play in the NFL or CFL.
“I'm hoping that at least 30 of these kids will get a chance to get into some team's camp as a result of this,” Luckhardt said.
“It's a true all-star game, unlike some other college games that ho on,” said Luckhardt. “These players selected are here because they deserve a chance to play in a bowl atmosphere and they deserve a chance to show they belong on the next level.
“The game is mostly made up of Division II players. There are 13 or 14 PSAC players, including three from Cal U,” Luckhardt noted. “But we also have some good Division I kids and D-III and NAIA kids and we also have international players. A lot of these players haven't had the opportunity to show the NFL or the CFL their abilities.”
Luckhardt said that the game takes over for a former Division II all-star game called the Cactus Bowl that died out. The site of the game was chosen, Luckhardt said, because Florence has been the site of the Division II National Championship game.
“Florence is a natural as a site for this all-star game,” Luckhardt said.
Luckhardt, who serves as a director for the game, has been on the ground level trying to get the event off the ground from the beginning.
“Getting ProGrass to come on board as the sponsor was a huge for us,” he said. “ProGrass has been a big, big supporter for this.”
Luckhardt noted that there are other sponsors for the game, including Lee Supply of Charleroi.
“We have a lot of sponsors from southwestern Pennsylvania,” he said. “We've gotten a lot of support that we needed to pull this off. We are hoping this game will take hold and really grow.
“There are plenty of players on the D-II level and internationally who get overlooked by the professional leagues.”
Luckhardt said that the players are getting excellent tutelage as they prepare for the game.
Each team will be coached by a staff made up of former NFL and NCAA Division I coaching legends.
“Look at the coaches for the teams,” he said. “There are some great names involved. I think there are over 1,000 career wins from the coaches we have here.”
Coaching the South team is no stranger to college fans. Johnny Majors enjoyed along career at Iowa State, Pitt and Tennessee.
His assistants include former Pitt coach and ESPN analyst Mike Gottfried, former Alabama wide receiver Antonio Carter, John Pease, who is an assistant coach at Utah and has 18 years if NFL coaching experience, and Steve Walters, who coached in the NFL for several teams including New England.
Coaching the North team is Peter Vaas, who spent six seasons as a head coach in NFL Europe and won two World Bowl championships.
His assistants include Kim McQuilken, former NFL quarterback; Ken Burrow, a former NFL receiver; and Leroy Keyes, who starred at Purdue and also played in the NFL.
Luckhardt also serves as a coaching consultant, along with Dennis Erickson, Pat Dye and Ron Meyer.
Cal U players in the game include defensive back Shawn Anderson, wide receiver Chedrick Cherry and quarterback Peter Lalich.
Some D-I players in the game include Alabama wide receiver Michael Bowman, South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels, Florida defensive back Moses Jenkins, Clemson wide receiver Jacob Payne, Rutgers linebacker Marvin Booker, Purdue wide receiver Antavian Edison, South Carolina running back Brian Maddox and Colorado linebacker Josh Hardigan.
Luckhardt said that a lot of the international players are getting great exposure from the experience as well.
“There is a crew from 60 Minutes and CNN that are taping a segment about a kid from India named Roshan Lobo,” Luckhardt said.
“I had no idea they were playing football in India, but there is an eight-team league there and he is the MVP and there is a lot of interest to see how he will do over here.” Luckhardt said after the game Lobo will make appearances on Good Morning America, Today Show and Anderson Cooper.
The game will be streamed on University of North Alabama's web site and will also be taped on Mark Cuban's television network AXS.
“If it turns out half as good as I think it will be, it will be amazing,” Luckhardt said. “I think we will have a television contract for next year.”
Luckhardt laughed when it was suggested that his retirement from Cal U would mean an end to his involvement in football.
“I'm not dead,” he said. “The last five months with this is kind of like starting a new football team. I'm sure my wife is wondering if this is what retirement was supposed to be all about, but I am really enjoying myself.”
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.