SALT LAKE CITY — Thankfully for a handful of local football players, the college season isn’t over quite just yet.
Five players from Utah schools will participate in Saturday afternoon’s East-West Shrine Bowl (formerly called the East-West Shrine Game), getting an opportunity to celebrate their successful collegiate careers while also showcasing their skills to NFL squads.
In doing so, Utah’s Tyler Huntley, Darrin Paulo and John Penisini, BYU’s Austin Lee and Utah State’s Dominik Eberle will join the ranks of previous Shrine Bowl participants Tom Brady, Walter Payton, Brett Favre, Gale Sayers, John Elway, Dick Butkus, Roger Staubach, Mike Ditka, Mark Brunell, Troy Vincent and Willie McGinest.
Billed as “the longest running college all-star football game in the nation,” the 95th annual game benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children. This year’s game will be played in St. Petersburg, Florida, and will kick off at 1 p.m. MST (NFL Network).
It also benefits players who hope to catch the attention of the 300 pro scouts, coaches and agents in attendance.
Tyler Huntley, Utah: The Utes’ stellar quarterback was ranked by a writer from an NFL team website as the No. 1 prospect to watch at this East-West Shrine Game, in part, he wrote, because of a 177.5 passer efficiency rating, sixth-best in college football, along with 3,092 yards and 19 TDs passing with just four interceptions and 444 yards and five scores rushing.
Great throw and catch from Tyler Huntley to @IndianaFootball WR Nick Westbrook.— PewterReport (@PewterReport) January 14, 2020
Very solid day from Westbrook. pic.twitter.com/z1G2KkMz7t
Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com pointed out that the dual-threat QB was a finalist for two prestigious awards (Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and the Manning Award) and was a semifinalist for three other awards, including the Walter Camp Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien and Lombardi.
The ChicagoBears.com website also listed Huntley as one of the players to watch. Writer Nathan Smith noted that Huntley is smaller than most top QB prospects at 6-1, 205 pounds and pointed out that he missed large parts of 2017 and ’18 with injuries, adding, “He’s currently projected to be a late-round draft pick and could exceed expectations in the right circumstances.”
Darrin Paulo, Utah: A Pac-12 first-team offensive lineman, Paulo has been a steady force for the Utes in his three years as a starter in the trenches. He played in 53 career games and started 40. Paulo had a solid season this year after switching from right tackle to left tackle as a senior. He helped open up holes for star running back Zack Moss and was a key part in the Utes finishing first in rushing offense (201.4 yards per game).
“We take pride,” Paulo said in regards to the Utes’ rushing success. “We always talk about who’s the leader in the conference. We like to pride ourselves on running the ball, especially against Cal and Arizona State. Those are good defenses we played against and we did well.”
John Penisini, Utah: The defensive lineman didn’t get the headlines that Utah’s all-time sacks leader Bradlee Anae and star defensive tackle Leki Fotu did, but he proved to be a valuable part of one of the most dominant defensive lines in college football. He’s made a strong impression in practice this week.
@Utah_Football DT John Penisini (@Dub_jayy_boy) is bullying linemen at Day 2 of the #ShrineGame pic.twitter.com/fcdDDOZtCw— The Draft Network (@TheDraftNetwork) January 14, 2020
“On the field, he’s super smart football-wise. He helps me with any questions that I have with my technique or the formations or the offense. John is one of the hardest workers on the team,” Fotu told the Deseret News this season. “He doesn’t get the recognition as some of us on the defense do, but if you sit down and watch tape and just watch him you’ll see how explosive and how great of a player he really is.”
Utah DT John Penisini was terrific on Tuesday for the West Team @ShrineBowl— NFL Draft Blitz (@NFLDraftBlitz) January 14, 2020
Showed good pass rush repertoire moves in the one on one's including a swim move, strong hands and power at the POA.
Austin Lee, BYU: The Cougar safety missed BYU’s Aloha Bowl game due to a hamstring issue, but he recently tweeted, “I swear I ain’t done yet.”
“No one prepares harder than Austin and no one watches more film,” BYU safeties coach Preston Hadley told the Deseret News earlier this season. “It’s off the field where he’s the most valuable, which is saying something because you all have seen how good he is on it.”
Dominik Eberle, Utah State: The kicker is the 33rd Aggie since 1937 to participate in the Shrine Bowl, according to USU’s athletic media relations department. Eberle earned honorable mention All-American honors by ProFootballFocus.com after booting in 21 of 24 field goals and 45 of 45 PATs while scoring a team-high 108 points.
Eberle kicked his way to eight school records with 359 points scored, 8.34 points per game, 64 made field goals, 167 extra points made and 167 of 167 extra points attempted. His PAT streak is a school record. He’s also the only Aggie to make four 50-yard field goals in a career.