On an uncommonly near-freezing night in Tucson, many of the players from the Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game didn’t seem to want to leave the field after the game.
The players, especially those from the winning West squad, mingled with family and friends. For some, it was the last time they would play organized football. For others, it was the start of the final push for the NFL dream.
“It’s an opportunity you can’t pass up,” said Arizona’s Taimi Tutogi, who played fullback and defensive end Friday night, as he did during his senior season at Arizona.
“This game will set you up for some pretty good things if you’re really serious about making it to the next level.”
The plummeting temperatures had a lot to do with a sparse crowd at Kino Stadium — far less than the announced attendance of more than 4,393 — as the the West squad dominated in a 40-7 victory. But the game is gravy (at least for the players).
As the Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game tries to gain a stronger foothold in the postseason landscape, the most important aspect is what happens during the week leading up to the game.
The Casino Del Sol game is one of six postseason all-star games, the grandest of which is the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. A new game, the Raycom All-Star Classic, will be held next Saturday in Mobile, Ala. On the West Coast, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will be held the same day in the Los Angeles area.
“The players will find out this is a great place to come to get great exposure because there are probably more scouts at this game than there will be at any other game than the Senior Bowl,” said West coach Dick Tomey, the former head coach at Hawaii, Arizona and San Jose State.
“I promise you, there were more scouts here than will be at the ones next week. We had over 100 almost every day, and Ted Thompson, the GM from the Green Bay Packers, was here every single day. He’s as successful a GM as there is, and he was here every day, all day.
“I think that’s a major part of the attraction of the game.”
It also helps when the game’s biggest stars from the biggest schools have big games.
That’s generally what happened as the several recognizable names from Pac-12 schools led the West squad.
Cal’s Isi Sofele led the West squad with 64 yards on 11 carries, making a nice cutback for the game’s final touchdown on a 15-yard run.
Stanford’s Drew Terrell was chosen the game’s MVP, out-jumping defenders for a 49-yard reception to the 1-yard-line and returning a punt 39 yards. He finished with two catches for 59 yards.
UCLA safety Dalton Hilliard, taking advantage of shaky quarterback play from lower-division East quarterbacks who, went 74 yards to score on an interception return. The West picked off five passes.
Cal defensive tackle Aaron Tipoti had a sack.
Washington State’s Jeff Tuel completed 6 of 8 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown. Tuel grew up in Tucson and attended Salpointe Catholic for a year before his family moved to Fresno, Calif.
He was planning to hang around Tucson with his dad Saturday — “we’re going to drive around and see some friends and drive by the house I grew up in and all that good stuff,” he said — before he heads off to the NFLPA game next week.
“Just to get to know these guys is the best part,” Tuel said.
“Every guy here has a dream. To share that with these guys and battle for that with them is really the best part. Going into next week, I’m going to do the same thing. Go out there and let it fly … and don’t make it better than it needs to be. Just have a good time.”
For the East squad, Louisiana Tech’s Ray Holley led the team with 12 rushes for 88 yards. Auburn’s speedy Onterio McCalebb nearly shook loose a few times, finishing with 38 yards on seven rushes, as well as a 16-yard reception.
For the Casino Del Sol organizers, it now becomes interesting to track how many players from the game get drafted, make camps and eventually stick with teams. Last season, six of about 100 players were drafted and 61 made camps.
“We accumulated better talent,” Tomey said of this season.
“I think the sky’s the limit for this game. It’s the kind of thing that will keep getting better and better every year.”