MOH big chance for small-school sleepers

Former Iowa standout Brandon Wegher, who rushed for 113 yards in the 2010 Orange Bowl, will play in the Medal of Honor Bowl. (AP Photo)

After rushing for 171 yards and three touchdowns in the Orange Bowl, Georgia Tech running back Synjyn Days is sure to be the focus of many NFL scouts during Medal of Honor Bowl practices this week.

And with 44 players from ACC and SEC schools in Charleston for the Jan. 10 all-star game at Johnson Hagood Stadium, there will be plenty of four and five-star recruits on display as pro teams prepare their war-room lists for the NFL draft that begins April 30.

But NFL scouts and player personnel bosses also want to see how intriguing small-school prospects measure up against top-tier talent. Consider the case of Cleveland Browns cornerback Pierre Desir, a fourth-round pick last year after playing at Division II Lindenwood University. Impressive performances in the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl boosted his stock.

Here are some small-school players who could make similar impressions this week at the Medal of Honor Bowl:

In the 2010 Orange Bowl, running back Brandon Wegher looked like a rising star. The Iowa freshman ran for 113 yards and a touchdown in a 24-14 win over Georgia Tech, capping a season in which he ran for 641 yards and an Iowa freshman record of eight touchdowns.

That was to be the last football game Wegher played for three years, as he sat out the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons after leaving Iowa. He failed to stick at Oklahoma and Iowa Western Community College, struggling academically and with personal problems that led to several arrests.

Finally, faced with a last chance to rescue his career, the 5-11, 210-pound Wegher made it work at Morningside College, an NAIA school in Sioux City, Iowa. There, he ran for 2,680 yards and 39 touchdowns this season, and caught 29 passes for another four scores.

There are two numbers attached to quarterback Chris Bonner's name that attract immediate attention: 6-7. The senior from Colorado State-Pueblo stands 6-7 and weighs 225 pounds, almost enough itself to make him an intriguing prospect.

But Bonner also has a strong arm, passing for 3,298 yards with 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions for Division II CSU-Pueblo. He led his team to a 17-2 record over two seasons.

"As a Division II player, I'm an underdog, but the NFL is definitely the goal," Bonner said during the season. "I've got to perform down the stretch to help the team. If I perform, maybe I'll get drafted, but at least get to camp with an NFL team."

Henderson State quarterback Kevin Rodgers has been on the radar of NFL scouts for a long time, having been named to numerous Division II All-America teams over the past three seasons.

He has size (6-3, 215) and smarts (graduated magna cum laude in finance) and this season passed for 3,602 yards with 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

There's some local flavor among the small-school hopefuls as well, including a trio of linebackers: Former Dorchester Academy standout Michael Gruber of Brevard College; Gabe Middlebrooks of Charleston Southern; and FCS All-American Quinn Backus of Coastal Carolina.

The Citadel has two players in the game - running back Jake Stenson and defensive end Justin Oxendine. Another former Bulldog, Fort Dorchester High School's Mike Sellers, will get a look at H-back in the Medal of Honor Bowl. The 6-0, 260-pounder finished his career as an offensive lineman at Winston-Salem State.