Small-school players drawing inspiration from Bears' Knox, others

As legions of football players harboring NFL dreams toil in relative anonymity at a host of college football sub-division schools, they should be encouraged by the events that are taking place on Sundays as a number of small-school standouts are making an immediate impact throughout the league. And their surprising success has sent scouts scurrying off the beaten path to find other potential gems in college football's lower divisions.

While scouts have always mined talent from the lower ranks, the path of small-school standouts is littered with obstacles and roadblocks from evaluators. Scouts often question the competition, and the small-school prospect's production is routinely dismissed when compared to big-school stars.

Players from Texas, USC or Ohio State rarely have their output questioned, but stalwarts like the Citadel's Andre Roberts and Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards must justify their stellar numbers. The perennial All-America status as Football Sub-Division stars does little to boost their prospects in the minds of some.

In fact, some teams refuse to entertain the thought of taking a small-school player due to the perceived transition needed to excel in the league. The prevailing thought among some general managers is that the game would be too "big" for players who don't play at the highest level of college football.

However, narrow-minded thinking like that caused some teams to miss out on future Pro Bowl players like Titans tackle Michael Roos (Eastern Washington) and cornerback Cortland Finnegan (Samford) and Packers safety Nick Collins (Bethune Cookman) in recent years.

If that isn't enough to entice more scouts to spend more time on small campuses, the surprising first-year success of Bears receiver Johnny Knox (Abiliene Christian) and Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox (William&Mary) is sure to spark an increase in scouts trekking to small schools this fall.

With more players proving that small schools can produce big talent, expect to see more unheralded prospects hear their name called on draft day in 2010.

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