In just a few years, the NFL Player's Association has created a first-class scouting event in the months leading up to the draft. Major college programs have been represented, but it also serves as a great platform for small-school guys looking for exposure. To that point, the MVP of the NFLPA Bowl was running back Terrell Watson, hailing from Azusa Pacific University--a private school in Southern California.
Scouts from every NFL team were represented at the event and the teams were coached by a number of big names from the NFL, including: Mike Martz, Mike Holmgren, and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Jackie Slater and Andre Reed. In short, the NFLPA should be proud of the event it is building.
In the great opportunity we received to speak with the Executive Director of the NFLPA, DeMaurice Smith, the pride he felt showed through in the interview. In speaking with him, it's easy to see why people gravitate to Smith, given his energy, passion for football and speaking ability.The audio contains a couple of questions from CJ Editor Anthony Cosenza, as well as one from SB Nation contributor, Jason Hirschhorn.
DS: Talking Bengals, right? (Smiles)
AC: That's right--SB Nation. Speaking with DeMaurice Smith--talk about maybe the growth of this event and the pride you've been feeling over the past couple of games.
DS: Well, you know, it's always a great game. To watch the game grow so that on a Saturday fans can watch a great game, players can compete against the highest level of talent and all of those things are wonderful things. The fact that we back up a great week for these players is so important. It's part of the tradition of this union. Some players that played in this game will be playing in the National Football League--it's an important time for us where we can teach them "the X's and O's", but we can surround them with Hall of Famers, like Darrell Green and Andre Reed. They can hear from, you know, some of the best player reps of all-time, like Steve Hutchinson, a guy who one day will probably be in the Hall of Fame, so coached by great coaches and surrounded by a union that has committed itself to the betterment of players. That's a week of a great message that we know these players walk away with and that's why the game grows. I think that if there was one thing that I was most proud of, you take this idea five years ago where we do something that we've never done before, and you end up with a great partner like ESPN, surrounded by great players and great people, man, that's the end of a good week. And for us, that's the good for our union.
AC: You had a small school guy, Azusa Pacific running back...he won the MVP...and...
DS: Yeah--wow! Here's the background on that story: I remember the day Jackie (Slater) called me, probably a month ago, and said: "De, I've got this guy. Small school guy, not a lot of press behind him, but man he is special. Is there any way we can have him play in the NFLPA game?". And I said, "He's in the game". There are a lot of things I can't do, but I know a guy who knows a guy (smiles) and when a guy comes as highly-recommended from just a special person in Jackie Slater, that's a no-brainer right away. And to be named the player of this game, that's just special. I'm proud of him, proud of his pedigree, it was a great shout-out for a small school in Azusa Pacific. I went to a small Christian college myself, so it's a great day when a young man can represent his school and himself in such a strong way.
JH: So, in the four years that the NFLPA has been putting on this event, what are the big changes?
DS: Um, there's probably been a lot. I think I want to focus on in five years, what are the things that remained the day that we're proud of. We pride ourselves with spending a tremendous amount of time with these young men, talking about things other than football. And you know and part of your jobs is everybody loves football and you talk about the ratings, who's watching it and who came, but we didn't really have the idea of the game that we wanted to be and have this rating. Or we wanted to be better than this other All-Star game. We did it because we wanted to be able to carry on the mission of the union and being able to do that and putting on a great game, while having stars like this young man from Azusa Pacific. To be able to get quality coaches like Mike Holmgren and Mike Martz, you know, those are the things that have always been the same. And so, as we go forward, we'll give the staff a little bit of time to decompress, and we do the after-action of the game (look at the things we did well, what we could do better). But man, after all of those things, I always stress with our folks the five, six, seven things and the reasons we wanted to do this game and let's make sure we build on those. And my hope is that every player when they walk away and who go on to play in the National Football League, or, for a lot of them, this is probably it, that we hear from them that it was a great experience. "I learned about transition", "that I learned about opportunities outside of football", and those are wins--big wins.