Mountaineers beginning to fill NFL ranks

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The Appalachian Online

Chris Warner

In August, while members of the 2015-16 App State football team have been preparing for their regular season debut against Howard, many former Mountaineers have been fighting to secure a spot on the 53-man NFL roster.

At 53 players per team, with 32 NFL teams, that’s only 1,696 jobs available in the NFL by Sept. 5, when teams are required by the league to submit their final roster for the season. Talk about a tough job-market for App State alumni.

But for the Mountaineers, who have always had a few players drafted here-or-there historically, many of whom have gone on to lead successful careers, the overall number of App State players in the NFL is on the rise.

In a preseason game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions on Saturday, five former Mountaineers suited up, or were at least on the sidelines, for the game. Defensive back Demetrius McCray, who donned the black-and-gold from 2010-12, headlined the list which included former guard William Corbin (2011-14), former receivers Tony Washington (2010-12) and Andrew Peacock (2009-12), as well as former standout punter Sam Martin (2009-12).

Preseason or not, five Mountaineers in a single NFL game is a big deal for the program. Heck, before App State completed what is widely considered the biggest upset in sports history against Michigan, to have five App State alumnus in a single game was probably unheard of. But not anymore.

Currently, App State has 11 players actively fighting for a spot on a roster.

Some of them are locks for a job, such as Appalachian’s all-time leader in receptions Brian Quick, who was drafted 33rd overall by the St. Louis Rams in 2012, the highest selection in the school’s history. The same can be said of punter Sam Martin (Lions), offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore (49ers), and defensive back Demetrius McCray (Jaguars), all of whom have been starters for their respective teams for a few seasons.

But many are competing with no guarantee of a job when the music stops.

Cornerback Joel Ross, a Mountaineer in 2014, went undrafted in May and signed with the Dallas Cowboys. With the loss of the team’s No. 1 cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, for the season, Ross has a great opportunity to make the jump. He’s played in all three of Dallas’ games so far, and has recorded six total tackles.

Offensive tackle Kendall Lamm, like Ross, went undrafted in May, but signed with the Houston Texans. He has played in three games this preseason, even starting in the team’s most recent 27-13 win over New Orleans on Saturday.

Corbin, now a member of the Jaguars, has spent time on two teams since May. He went undrafted and was signed by the Colts, only to be released by the team on July 27. The Jaguars signed him on Aug. 24, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll have a spot on Sept. 5. But the Jags wouldn’t have signed him so late in the preseason if he wasn’t expected to seriously compete.

The jump from the college ranks to the pros is no cake-walk. Consider that 2015 Appalachian Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Armanti Edwards, who passed for over 10,000 yards and rushed for another 4,000, was only drafted in the third round by the Carolina Panthers, and stuck around in the NFL for only four years. And that’s no knock to Edwards, four years beats the NFL average by a considerable margin. Most guys can’t even crack a spot for a week.

Going forward, the mid-to-late round draft picks will increasingly become early picks, and the undrafted players will become the mid-rounders of seasons past for the Mountaineers. It’s the benefit of becoming an FBS program and joining the Sun Belt: You get the increased exposure that’s so crucial to the recruiting process. And recruiting is the life-blood of any collegiate program.

Looking ahead to next year, senior defensive end Ronald Blair, defensive back Doug Middleton and wide receiver Malachi Jones, to name a few, are expected to make the jump and continue building the Mountaineer tradition in the NFL. Junior running back Marcus Cox may be a part of the conversation as well, depending on when chooses to declare.

It’s an exciting time to be a Mountaineer fan. While we’re quite a few years off from seeing App State produce multiple first-round draft selections perennially like Alabama, Ohio State, and other collegiate powerhouses, the program is moving in the right direction.

Column by: Chris Warner, Sports Editor