Small-school guys get their shot at NFL combine

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Armonty Bryant gets those awkward looks every time he tells someone he attends college at ECU.

Naturally, the first inclination is to ask about East Carolina. When he explains the school name is actually East Central, the next question, naturally, is East Central what?

No, Bryant is not the most prominent defensive lineman at this year’s annual NFL scouting combine and he doesn’t come from a school most football fans have even heard of. Yet he impressed enough of the right people to earn one of 333 invites to the NFL’s annual scouting combine so he can compete against all those big-name guys he’s been watching on television the last few years.

“I hear it all the time. They think it’s supposed to be East Central Michigan or something,” he said. “East Central is in Ada, Okla. I like to say it’s in the middle of nowhere.”

Here, all 29 players form the non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools have a story.

Some, such as Tennessee Tech receiver Da’Rick Rogers, are actually FBS transplants. Rogers landed with Tech, Jim Youngblood’s alma mater, last August after getting booted off Tennessee’s team for failing a drug test.

Others, such as Bryant and Azusa Pacific offensive lineman Luke Marquardt, outgrew their small-school monikers long ago but never got a chance to face the bigger-name players until now. Bryant was listed at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds last season. Scouts believe he can play either defensive end or outside linebacker.

Marquardt came to Indianapolis at 6-8 1/2 and 315 pounds and did 31 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press Friday.

The only real difference between them and their higher-profile colleagues? Probably visibility.

Bryant had only two scholarship offers in high school — Abilene Christian and East Central.

Marquardt gave up football in high school, choosing instead to focus on basketball. When Azusa Pacific offered him scholarship money for football, he gave it a whirl. In 2 1/2 years, he made the transition from walk-on basketball player to prized pupil of NFL Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, Azusa Pacific’s offensive line coach.

“Just by chance we were walking by the head coach’s football locker, and I decided to go meet him,” Marquardt said. “He was like, `You have great size, great athleticism and we’d love to have you come out for tight end,’ so I went out on the field, did a couple routes, threw with the quarterbacks and they offered me a little bit of money and then I eventually got a full-ride scholarship.”

Of course, it’s not that easy for everyone.

At 6-6, 325 pounds, Glenville State’s Mark Jackson has the size NFL scouts covet in an offensive lineman and is athletic enough to have caught a 14-yard TD pass on a tackle-eligible play in 2010.

Now he’s trying to rewrite history.

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