Monday, January 6, 2014
In 2009, Terry Shankle was one of the most sought-after high school prospects in the Southeast. Four years mixed with highs and lows and the North Carolina Tar Heels defensive back is out for one more chance to prove his potential this week at the inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl in Charleston, S.C. Shankle's story is shared by many of the 92 draft-eligible players coming to Johnson Hagood Stadium for the Jan. 11 college football all-star game. In just over 100 days, the Medal of Honor Bowl committee assembled a talented lineup of players from across the country. Some have already established themselves as candidates for the early rounds of May's NFL draft. Others, like Shankle, are former three and four-star high school prospects sitting on the precipice of the NFL draft, hoping to use the this week to help propel them in.
“The game seemed like a good opportunity because there are a lot of good players and a lot of under-the-radar players, like myself, who will get a chance to showcase our skills,” Shankle said. “I think it could be very important in helping us showcase our talent, get noticed by scouts and teams, and increase our chances of making it to the (NFL).”
Medal of Honor Bowl Chairman Tommy McQueeney says more than 100 NFL scouts have committed to attending. For the past three months, Executive Director Brian Woods worked closely with NFL front-office executives to determine which players teams wanted to see. Throughout the week, scouts will run players through physical and mental evaluations to gather more information on the prospects before the NFL combine and college pro days begin next month.
“It really is very much like a job interview for the players,” McQueeney said. “A good performance could be the difference of being selected in the sixth or fourth round for some players. There may be others who come here and aren't on any draft lists but leave as a fifth-round prospect. That's enormous for a player, so it is like a job interview in every way, shape and form.”
West Texas A&M receiver Nathan Slaughter enters as one of this year's fastest pro prospects with 40-yard dash times reportedly clocked as fast 4.1 seconds. But four years in Division II have kept him relatively unknown. Slaughter says the Medal of Honor Bowl could be his opportunity to prove he can compete with players from the major Division I conferences.
“Especially in cases like mine, being from a small school, it allows me to portray some of my talents on a bigger stage,” Slaughter said. “I think the week will showcase a lot of things outside of my speed, and show how valuable some of my talents can truly be against the best players. It allows scouts to see the things that tape doesn't show.”
The Medal of Honor Bowl features plenty of star power from nearly every major conference. Tennessee running back Rajion Neal scored 12 touchdowns and rushed for more than 1,100 yards this season. Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock was named a Sports Illustrated All-American with 82 tackles, nine sacks, and 19 tackles for loss. Maryland linebacker Marcus Whitfield was an All-ACC selection, West Virginia lineman Curtis Feigt All-Big 12 and Portland State running back D.J. Adams an FCS All-American.
“We specifically went after players that the NFL is looking to evaluate and hopes to draft. The type of players that are going to get signed,” McQueeney said. “I literally think this is probably the best assemblage of college football talent that has ever played in this state.”
Former NFL head coach Chan Gailey will serve as head coach of the National team, while former NFL coordinator Ralph Friedgen will lead the American team. Both coaches have put together staffs of former NFL and college coaches. Olympic gold medalist Maurice Green will serve as strength and conditioning coach for both teams.
“It's an honor,” Shankle said about playing for the coaches. “The knowledge they instill in you is amazing. Being taught by a person who has a ton of experience of the game can only elevate your game if you listen to them.”
The Medal of Honor Bowl is arranged as a week-long affair with fan events that include a NFL coaches luncheon Tuesday, a free player meet-and-greet Wednesday night, a Wounded Warrior luncheon Thursday, and a Medal of Honor black-tie gala Friday night.
Saturday before the game, there will be a free tailgate party from 10:30 a.m. until kickoff outside of Johnson Hagood Stadium. The South Carolina State Marching 101 band will perform at halftime.
“We want this to become an event on par with the (Cooper River) bridge run or the Family Circle Cup,” McQueeney said. “Charleston is the perfect location and I think overdue for something like this.”
The Medal of Honor Bowl kicks off at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $20-125 and are available at www.MOHbowl.com and www.Etix.com
“My goal is to get my name circulating through different teams and show them I'm still the highly sought-after high school star,” Shankle said. “I've had a lot of ups and downs during my college career that slowed the process of reaching my goals, but I want to show everybody that I can play.”
This week, at the Medal of Honor Bowl, Shankle and 91 other prospects will get their chance. Follow @fjmansfield //