Super Bowl hero inspires two West Alabama draft hopefuls

DAVIE, Fla. -- When West Alabama's defensive duo took some time away from training for May's NFL draft, they decided to spend their Super Bowl Sunday at a Wingstop in South Florida. That's where they found some unlikely -- and unreal -- inspiration.

The rest of the country is now familiar with the play and the player. But Tirelle Cullen and Martaze Jackson might have both seen it first. Every time their former teammate, Malcolm Butler, took the field, they directed their attention toward him.

"I saw him as he lined up for that play," Cullen said. "I saw No. 21, and I was bragging to everyone around, saying 'that's my boy in the Super Bowl! That's my boy!' When I saw him make the break on the pass, I knew it. I knew what would happen next."

Butler, of course, made the goal line interception that would propel the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl title, Butler to league-wide fame and his former teammates to a level of motivation they'd never felt before.

"This is a man who went undrafted," Jackson said. "He struggled to even find an agent to represent him. When you come from a Division II school, most guys give up on their dreams. But he kept chasing his. And he definitely motivated me to keep chasing mine."

That pursuit landed Jackson and Cullen in Saturday's first regional combine of the year, held at the Dolphins' training facility, where nearly 180 prospects showed off their ability in an effort to gain exposure however they can find a way.

None of the players in attendance Saturday were invited to the NFL's main scouting combine event in Indianapolis, which makes opportunities like this one so important. If they can gain exposure here, they can move onto the Super Regional Combine, which exposes them to NFL scouts searching for diamonds in the rough.

Carolina Panthers tackle David Foucault, for example, was in part discovered at a regional combine in Tampa last year. He was invited to three NFL training camps before landing on the Panthers' active roster for the 2014 season. Cullen and Jackson know many of these stories, but they need not look beyond their former teammate for true inspiration.

After all, Butler came from their small school in Livingston, Alabama. Just like Butler, Cullen and Jackson are facing long odds to be drafted. Then again, just one year ago, many would have also doubted Butler's chances of even making it to a training camp. Now, he's spending his time at Disney World and the Grammy's.

"Back in college, (Butler) never complained about anything, and he was the hardest working player out there," Cullen said. "Usually players with his ability are too over the top. He never asked for anything extra. He just did his job. If I could use one word to describe him, it would be humble.

"That sums him up in one word."

It turns out, Cullen and Jackson might not simply benefit from the inspiration Butler has provided both of them. They also might benefit in a more tangible way. For instance, when West Alabama holds its pro day next month, both players might have more NFL teams scouting them than originally expected.

Before Butler made the Super Bowl-winning play, only three teams had signed up to attend West Alabama's Pro Day. Since then, 10 more teams have inquired with the school about attending, Cullen said. Butler is also expected to attend as a way to show his own support.

It turns out, those scouts might be surprised by what they see from Jackson. During Saturday's regional combine, he raised the eyebrows of other participants with a broad jump and vertical jump that was the best of anyone at his position.

Both West Alabama players, no doubt, have long and difficult roads ahead of them. Butler's own ascent isn't something that happens often. And both of them know that. But now, in the wake of their former teammate's success, they also learned something else:

Anything is possible. Which is exactly what brought them to that regional combine on Saturday.

"What more motivation could you possibly want?" Cullen said. "We're all so happy for (Butler). And we're all so inspired by everything that he's done."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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