College stars aim to impress in East-West game

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Javarris James has had neck stingers and throbbing pain. He's had a shoulder pop out, a leg give in and sprained his ankles.

So the former Miami Hurricanes running back understands NFL scouts' concerns.

James is one of many players in Orlando with something to prove in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game, a showcase for college football all-stars looking to boost their profiles for the NFL draft.

"It's a chance," James said, "to begin to answer all those questions."

That sentiment is widespread in Orlando this week.

There are some players, like James, who weren't always healthy. Some with technique issues. Some who might have been overlooked because they played for small schools.

Regardless of position or background, every player wants to show the NFL general managers, coaches and scouts who filled the sidelines for practices this week -- and will be in the stands Saturday -- that they have what it takes to perform at the next level.

"It's like you're constantly interviewing for a job," said former BYU quarterback Max Hall, who will play for the West team. "But you know what? All it takes is one team to give you that call. Just one."

That also makes the highlights and errors shine brighter.

Every pass, catch, block, kick and punt -- everything -- will be replayed and re-evaluated. One great moment could attract attention, another could scare away pro teams well ahead of the NFL combine and campus pro days.

"There's a certain amount of pressure that goes with that," said East coach Romeo Crennel, the former Cleveland Browns coach recently hired to be Kansas City's defensive coordinator.

"I think they all want to impress. They see the NFL guys standing on the sidelines, so when their turn comes, they definitely want to add a little bit more to it."

This game isn't filled with first-round picks and draft day "locks." The players making up the Shrine game roster are mostly on the cusp of being drafted or looking to move up from their current projections.

Among the other notable players competing are quarterbacks Todd Reesing of Kansas and Darryll Clark of Penn State; defensive linemen Greg Hardy of Mississippi, Lindsey Witten of Connecticut and Willie Young of North Carolina State; and tight end Dennis Pitta of BYU.

"I was a late bloomer," Pitta said. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to just keep working and continue playing."

One thing city officials said won't be a problem is the field.

When the teams step between the lines Saturday, it will be on new sod installed after the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl turned the field into a muddy mess, the grass ripped apart and the playing surface full of patches and puddles. The Champs Sports Bowl, held on the same field four days earlier, had dry turf but players complained of losing their footing and chunks of sod were popping up during plays.

Officials with the city of Orlando, which oversees the old stadium, have said unusually cold temperatures contributed to the poor footing. They're confident that won't be a problem for the longest running college football all-star game Saturday.

The Shrine game has been played every year since 1925. Proceeds from the game will benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

With all eyes on them, players are primed to bolster their status with a peak performance.

"It was amazing to see so many scouts at practice all at the same time," said receiver David Reed of Utah. "I was so excited. I just said to myself, 'This is it. This is my chance. This is my opportunity to show what I can do at the next level."