Broward High Schools

Orange Bowl football showcase brings exposure to unrecognized talent

Local kids participating in drills in front of coaches at the showcase held Saturday morning at Nova Southeastern University.
Local kids participating in drills in front of coaches at the showcase held Saturday morning at Nova Southeastern University. For the Miami Herald

As much of a hotbed for high school football talent as Miami-Dade, Broward and even Palm Beach Counties have been through the years, a lot of it still slips through the cracks leaving kids unnoticed.

The Orange Bowl Committee decided to do something about it this year and thus was born the Orange Bowl High School Football Showcase held Saturday morning at Nova Southeastern University.

More than 400 high school kids from the tri-county area and a total of 43 small colleges from around the country (Division II, III and NAIA) converged on Nova Southeastern for the six hour event that began early in the morning.

Players were put through numerous drills before eventually participating in seven-on-seven drills, with numerous former Miami Dolphins including John Offerdahl and Jeff Dellenbach leading the way.

“Sometimes in life you have an opportunity to do something that’s just good all the way around,” said former Orange Bowl Committee Director and Showcase Chairman Bob Epling. “You look out here today and it’s a thing of beauty as you see all these kids that get an opportunity to further their education but even better than that, a chance to better their lives because of an education.”

According to Epling, a member of the National Football Foundation Board of Directors, the event was born due to the success of it having started in Southern California nine years ago and then Houston over the past five years.

“I sat beside a gentleman who was part of the Houston showcase last year and we had a conversation,” said Epling. “Soonafter, two members of the Orange Bowl staff and I went to back to Houston to learn more, the Orange Bowl Board of Directors endorsed it under the auspices of the National Football Foundation and here we are today.”

The event was a free one-day event, in association with the National Football Foundation (NFF) and its local chapters bringing together high school football seniors who had the necessary GPA (2.3) or higher in 16 Core Courses and high enough SAT scores (820 or 900 depending on whether you took the test before or after March, 2016).

“The Orange Bowl Committee staff has done just an outstanding job of putting this entire thing together,” said David Shula who became a member of the Orange Bowl Committee and year ago and was one of the key organizers of the event along with Mitch Morrall, son of former Dolphin great Earl Morrall. “The whole goal is to bring small college coaches and kids who tend to get lost in the shuffle of the recruiting process together. As everyone knows, South Florida is and has been a hotbed for high school football talent for as long as we can remember and this gives kids an opportunity that they may not have otherwise had. I was fortunate to be elected to Orange Bowl Committee last year and when I heard about this, I jumped at the opportunity to get involved.”

The day also served as an opportunity for most high school coaches to attend the event and bring their kids along with them.

“This is way better than the college fair we normally do, to get this many colleges down here at one time is terrific because unfortunately Florida hardly has any D-II and D-III schools,” said Palmetto head coach Mike Manasco who brought 10 of his players to the event. “The D-I kids, they get found. The Michigan’s and Alabama’s all find them. But it’s these kids, the ones just under the blue chip status who are the ones that usually get overlooked. This is an opportunity that they otherwise would not have and we’re grateful to the Orange Bowl Committee for putting this together.”

“This is absolutely awesome,” said Miami Beach quarterback Eddie Brill who was the MVP of the Private/Public All-Star game in early January. “The amount of coaches and schools out here is really amazing. I’ve already talked to three of four different schools. Just a huge opportunity for me to find a spot that I can call home for the next four years.”

Other ex-Dolphins involved of the event included Chris Chambers, Terry Kirby, Channing Crowder, Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson and Troy Stradford.

“This is so cool because we all know that there are only so many players that get recruited to D-I schools which leaves so much talent that is underdeveloped, physically, emotionally, mentally that get passed up by these big schools just like I did 30 years ago,” said Offerdahl who was a Dolphin from 1986-93 and whose career was cut short by injuries. “I was a half scholarship kid to a small school but this allows kids to find a way to grow their skills. I wish they had had something like this when I played. I can only be thankful that I had a coach back then (Jack Harbaugh, father of Jim and John) that saw something in me to give me a chance at a small school.”

Said Epling: The Orange Bowl is not just the brand equity but really the people within it. The volunteers, the whole group together as a whole is what makes this happen and the mission is to help these kids and that’s what we hopefully did today.”