(Stats Perform) – How cool would it be to pick the brains of some Super Bowl-winning coaches, say, Sean Payton, one day, and Mike Shanahan, soon after. Only to follow it up by getting advice from Jimmy Garoppolo, the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback in last season’s Super Bowl.
Eastern Illinois coaches and players have enjoyed those opportunities recently, while also getting the chance to connect with a plethora of other famous alumni from its football program.
Similar experiences are occurring across FCS college football. While being forced off the field and to shelter in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Panthers from the Ohio Valley Conference are one of many programs that have been active with scheduling virtual visits from a wide-ranging group of guests. Through Zoom, WebEx and other video conferencing tools, the teams are enjoying Life Lessons 101.
Those willing to share their experiences are in abundance, from players and coaches who were once part of the program to famous friends of coaches currently in the program to people who can help with career development.
Drake University went right to the current Super Bowl champs, setting up a group of its players with Brendan Daly, a former tight end in the program who is the defensive line coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. In addition, the Bulldogs’ coaching staff has called on the school’s most recent NFL draft pick, Eric Saubert, as well as safety/special teams standout Jeff Heath from the Las Vegas Raiders.
Daly would know about Garoppolo’s roots are at Eastern Illinois, and also those of Mike Person, who started on the 49ers’ offensive line in Super Bowl LIV. Person, a Montana State graduate, recently had a virtual visit with members of his alma mater’s program.
Northwestern State involved two-time Super Bowl champion linebacker Gary Reasons, an alumnus who was the first three-time All-American in FCS history. The Demons’ coaching staff then signaled for a “Philly Special,” connecting their quarterbacks with Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles, who has family connections to assistant coach Anthony Scelfo.
The guests on video calls go on and on, and keep growing. Among alums, Northern Iowa brought back former NFL offensive lineman Austin Howard; Delaware welcomed back former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon; New Hampshire spotlighted Matt Evans, its 2011 Stats Perform Buck Buchanan Award winner who’s now a Washington Redskins scout; and Maine has scheduled a handful of pros, including its current Pro Bowler, Baltimore Ravens fullback Pat Ricard. Colgate called on Tem Lukabu, a senior linebacker on its 2003 national runner-up squad who’s now the Boston College defensive coordinator.
Albany coaches went outside the program to connect players with Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Arizona Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds. Charleston Southern coach Autry Denson and assistant Aaron Coeling reached out to one of their former players at Notre Dame, inviting 49ers offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey in for a call. Towson coach Rob Ambrose has invited in different speakers, including former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, who played under Ambrose at UConn.
On Thursday, San Diego wide receivers should enjoy a terrific positional meeting. They’re scheduled to be joined by alum Jamal Agnew of the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk, a friend of Toreros assistant coach Chad Savage.
All across the FCS, there are shining moments during a dark period.