Jordan Love and Karim Barton played in relative obscurity as they finished their college football careers a few miles down the road from each other.
Love was a starting cornerback for a Towson team that went to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivison championship; Barton a first-team all-conference offensive lineman at Morgan State.
But this week, the two small-school standouts are both at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in California, trying to make a name for themselves while representing their universities as they line up against players from premiere Football Bowl Subdivision programs such as Ohio State, Missouri and Oklahoma.
"I'm just taking it all in. I'm humbled by the whole situation, considering where I come from," Barton said. "This whole week has been a blast, a great experience. And to represent a school like Morgan State, I feel pressure but at the same time I know there are a lot of people out there pulling for me."
Love and Barton were invited to the annual game, which was established in 2012 as a showcase for draft-eligible players, after strong senior seasons at their respective schools. They know that despite facing long odds to make an NFL roster, it only takes one team — in some cases, one coach or scout — to notice them.
They will play Saturday's game at Saturday's game, televised at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, will give them additional exposure.
"I just want to put my skills on display and show everybody what kind of football player I am," said Love, who became a first-team all-CAA performer for the Tigers after transferring from Georgia. "And hopefully I will impress a general manager or someone from a team."
Last year, scouts from every NFL team, including the Ravens, and other professional leagues attended the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl's practices and games. Buffalo Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Sean McGrath and Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson played in last year's game and went on to make NFL rosters this fall.
Love and Barton are also getting an opportunity to learn from former NFL players and coaches. Dennis Green is the head coach for Barton's American squad and Dick Vermeil is the coach of Love's National squad.
But as far as the coaches and scouts were concerned once practices started Tuesday, the only thing that distinguished Love and Barton from the players from more prominent programs, besides their performance, were the helmets they wore from their respective schools.
"I'm not big-eyed by the whole situation. I'm not anxious. I'm coming here and showing what I could do," said Barton, whom the coaches have moved from right tackle, the position he played three years for the Bears, to left guard. "There are guys from SEC schools and other big schools and I'm going against them and it's not like, 'Oh, he's from a small school.'"
Barton said his goal is to perform well enough to earn an invite to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis and go from there. Love was thinking a little bigger, saying that he hopes Saturday to convince an NFL team to draft him.
But both players acknowledged that getting a chance to compete on national television is a tremendous opportunity.
"It's definitely a good thing," Love said.
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl