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Shoals lands all-star game
By Jeff Edwards - TNValleyNow.com
Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence will host a college all-star football game March 15. Players, scouts and coaches are expected from across the country, as well as Canada and Europe.

FLORENCE — Local football junkies will be able to get their fix at a time of year usually reserved for college basketball, thanks to a new college all-star game coming to Florence.

The ProGrass International Scout Bowl will be played at Braly Municipal Stadium on March 15, a Friday, and will feature college football players who might have flown under the radar and are needing a last chance to show off for professional scouts, game organizers said at a news conference at the Marriott Shoals on Thursday.

The Collegiate Development Football League has partnered with ProGrass, a maker of synthetic turf, and EUROstopwatch to sponsor the event.

“Players from the game will come from many different divisions in college football,” collegiate league founder and CEO George St. Lawrence said. “We’ve gathered the names of many outstanding players who are looking for a second chance to impress scouts. We’ll have Division I players, Division II All-Americans and Division III All-Americans.”

St. Lawrence said invitations will be sent to players beginning this week. Players, coaches and scouts will be arriving in the area the Tuesday before the game. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. March 15, and will be followed the next day by the North Alabama spring football game.

“We have had contact with every NFL team and Canadian Football League team, and I believe at least two general managers from (European leagues) will be here,” St. Lawrence said. “It is really a great opportunity after the end of the NFL Combine for scouts who are really diligent to look at some more talent. That’s what this game is all about, an opportunity to give kids another showcase to display their talent.”

While the date of the game may seem odd, considering most other college all-star games are played in January, EUROstopwatch director of operations Francisco Lujan said it is placed in mid-March for a reason.

“The main reason we wanted to have the game in March is that the NFL Combine is the last week of February, and some players might not have had a great week there or might have been injured and not able to participate,” Lujan said. “Those players need one last chance to improve their stock, and this game is their opportunity. It also doesn’t bunch up with other all-star games so the scouts of NFL or CFL teams will get an opportunity to see all the talent that is out there. We want to give kids every single opportunity we can.”

Lujan said a television contract for the game has not been finalized, but organizers are in discussions with the NBC Sports Network, Spike TV and CSS to televise the contest, which St. Lawrence said he hopes will turn into an annual event.

There will be familiar faces coaching the teams, including former Pittsburgh and Tennessee coach Johnny Majors, former Kansas and Pittsburgh coach and ESPN college football broadcaster Mike Gottfried and former NFL offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis.

“We wanted to give the kids the coaches they need to give them a chance to get to the next level,” Lujan said. “For the kids to be around those guys for a week with the experience they bring is an amazing experience for them. There is close to 1,000 years of combined coaching experience on the staffs, and all that experience will greatly benefit the players.”

The game won’t just include players from American colleges. St. Lawrence said foreign players, including ones from Mexico, South Africa, India and France, will participate. Scouts and general managers from foreign football leagues also are expected.

“Talent knows no geography,” St. Lawrence said. “Football is becoming an international sport. This game will be the connector to import and export football talent globally.”

St. Lawrence and Lujan said Florence was a natural place to host the game because of the success the Shoals has had hosting the Division II National Championship game for the past 27 years.

“The Division II National Championship game is a showcase on how a game like that should be done,” St. Lawrence said. “The University of North Alabama is renowned on the Division II level as is the Shoals area hosting the national championship game. We feel very fortunate to be able to have the game in the Shoals area.”

UNA Athletics Director Mark Linder said the success of the Division II National Championship game was one of the first things event organizers brought up in hosting discussions.

“That was (ProGrass president) Bob Thomas’ first statement to me in our discussion,” Linder said. “He said from the success the championship game has been the past 27 years, he knew the community would do a good job of hosting the all-star game. And we wanted to make it happen.”

The game should be an economic boon for the Shoals, Linder said.

“We have studied the importance of a UNA football game in the community and found that each football game brings $1.5 million of economic impact to the area,” Linder said. “We feel great about the economic impact this game will have on the community. Whenever you have an opportunity to host a game like this, you have to do it. We’re really excited about it.”

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