Missouri Valley boasts strong Senior Bowl contingent

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(Stats Perform) - That the Missouri Valley Football Conference has five former players participating in the Reese's Senior Bowl this week can be put into the following perspective:

Four conferences on the higher FBS level - Conference USA and the Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences - don't have as many participants in the 72nd edition of the nation's premier college all-star game in Mobile, Alabama.

The MVFC contingent, said Jim Nagy, the game's executive director, "speaks to how strong that (FCS) league would have been if they played a fall season."

While the players will be missed during the MVFC's upcoming spring season, North Dakota State offensive tackle Dillon Radunz, Northern Iowa offensive tackle Spencer Brown and defensive end Elerson Smith, Illinois State safety Christian Uphoff and South Dakota State wide receiver Cade Johnson are a source of pride for the conference. They're part of the National roster, which is being guided by the Miami Dolphins coaching staff.

Cornerbacks Bryan Mills of North Carolina Central and Robert Rochell of Central Arkansas and Grambling State offensive guard/center David Moore are on the American roster, which is being coached by the Carolina Panthers' staff.

The eight-player FCS group in the Senior Bowl is double the number of a year ago. That 2020 group was headlined by Southern Illinois safety Jeremy Chinn, who along with another former MVFC player, Illinois State running back James Robinson, were the two best FCS-level rookies in the NFL this season.

"We are elated with our league's representation in such a prestigious event," MVFC commissioner Patti Viverito said. "Coaches at our institutions work tirelessly in recruiting and shaping the young men who will represent our schools and our league in the Senior Bowl. It's a tremendous stage for our student-athletes to display their talent."

While the week concludes with Saturday's game at South Alabama's Hancock Whitney Stadium, the practices and team interviews during the week can be even more important because personnel from all 32 NFL teams will be able to make up-close-and-personal evaluations.

The 6-foot-5½, 299-pound Radunz was the first player invited to this year's Senior Bowl, and he accepted in the locker room right after North Dakota State played its only fall game on Oct. 3. The Bison's eight-time FCS national championship program has produced the most NFL Draft choices since 2014 (six), and Radunz is expected to be this year's second FCS selection after a teammate who isn't even a part of the MVFC group at the Senior Bowl, quarterback Trey Lance, an underclassman and likely first-round pick.

The mammoth Brown (6-8, 321), who has been training for the NFL alongside Radunz in San Diego, and Rochell are generally considered the other top FCS draft prospects. Rochell is the only FCS player at the Senior Bowl whose school (Central Arkansas) committed to playing a full fall schedule.

"Giving sub-FBS players a chance to prove to NFL teams that they belong with Power 5 prospects is what the Senior Bowl is all about," Nagy said.