MOBILE, Ala. — The Senior Bowl quarterbacks all have something to prove.
Graham Harrell and Pat White want to show they can thrive in a prostyle offense like they did in college ball. Nathan Brown and Rhett Bomar aim to convince NFL teams they’re not just small-school stars.
John Parker Wilson and Cullen Harper also hope to use Saturday’s showcase for top senior NFL prospects as a launching pad for pro careers, one coming off a 12-win season and the other off a disappointing year.
None of them are as coveted by NFL teams as underclassmen Matthew Stafford of Georgia and Mark Sanchez of Southern California. It’s hard to argue with their college credentials, though.
Harrell finished his Texas Tech career with an NCAA-record 134 touchdown passes, 15,793 passing yards — second on the all-time list — and some questions he is eager to answer.
“More than anything, I think this is an opportunity to break some of the stereotypes that come with being a quarterback at Texas Tech,” he said. “A lot of people act like it’s just the system. Obviously the system helps you put up great numbers, but there’s a little more to it than just the system at Texas Tech.”
On Saturday, he’ll spend more time actually huddling and take more snaps under center than he’s accustomed to. The game, though, is merely the finale of a weeklong series of meetings, interviews and practices where the players could attempt to put themselves in better position for the draft.
Among the top prospects participating are Southern Cal linebacker Rey Maualuga, Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher, Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji, Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe and Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
The game marks a homecoming for White, a Daphne native who will play in “a game I’ve watched since the very first year of my life, probably.”
Once again, he gets to prove he can play quarterback. Auburn and Alabama weren’t convinced of that when he was being recruited out of high school, leading him to head to West Virginia.
The prolific and athletic White is trying to answer skeptics who wonder if he will land at quarterback or possibly wide receiver in the NFL.
“That’s the position that got me here. I played quarterback for six years, two in high school,” White said.
Like Harrell, he is a record-setting college player with much to show the NFL. He was 4-0 as a starter in bowl games — a first for a quarterback — and a two-time Big East Offensive Player of the Year. White also set the NCAA mark for career rushing yards by a quarterback with 4,480.
What does he want to prove? “That I can play the game of football. That’s what we’re all here to show.”
Wilson and Harrell showed they could lead teams into national championship contention as seniors, even if the teams couldn’t finish the job. Wilson directed Alabama to a 12-0 regular season record and finished as the school’s all-time leading passer.
He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. The coach who gave him the chance, Mike Shula, is directing the South team quarterbacks as part of the Jacksonville Jaguars staff.
“When I came to Alabama, I don’t think many people had the high expectations that I did,” Wilson said. “It’s a good opportunity to come out here and maybe catch some people’s eyes.”
Wilson would like to finish with a win in his home state after the Tide ended the season with losses in the Southeastern Conference championship game and the Sugar Bowl.
“There’s a bunch of Alabama people down here, so maybe I can go out on a better note,” he said.
Harrell, meanwhile, led Texas Tech to an 11-2 record and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the top senior quarterback.
“I hope the NFL scouts see that and say, ‘That kid’s a winner,’” Harrell said. “But there’s still some stereotypes coming from the system I played in and hopefully I can help break some of those this week.”
Hawaii’s Colt Brennan tried to make a similar breakthrough last season, but wasn’t chosen until the Washington Redskins picked him in the sixth round.
Harper and Clemson had a disappointing season after entering ranked in the top 10, leading to a midseason coaching change for the Tigers.
Bomar and Brown both arrive from smaller schools. Bomar played his final two seasons for Football Championship Subdivision team Sam Houston State after being dismissed from Oklahoma, and Brown also played in the Southland Conference at Central Arkansas, where he was the league’s player of the year.
“I want to get that small-school bug off my back,” Brown said. “I know everybody out here’s on an even surface. Everybody’s looked at the same way. That’s what makes it so great. But I’ve still got to prove that I can throw with these guys and that I can make every throw that the NFL wants me to make.”