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Senior Bowl pushes for deeper ties between players and Mobile community

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports
Former Alabama QB Blake Sims calls a play against the North team at the 2015 Senior Bowl at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Getty Images)

MOBILE, Ala. – As the Senior Bowl has grown into a tentpole event for the NFL over the past decade, so too has the base of high-level talent rising out of Mobile, Alabama. Nobody has recognized this more than the personnel departments at the highest levels of college and professional football.

So maybe it’s no surprise that one of the first efforts of the Senior Bowl’s new director, former Seattle Seahawks scout Jim Nagy, has been to direct that talent back into a city that has hosted one of the biggest college football showcases for 69 years. More specifically, to take a game that continues to grow as an NFL scouting spectacle and reinvest some of the knowledge and gravitas back into the local community. How? By announcing the Senior Bowl has created an outreach program, partnering with nearly 50 NFL alumni from the Mobile-area who will reach back into the area to take part in community events during game week.

Nagy has dubbed it the Senior Bowl Ambassador Club, and the list of participants who have volunteered to take part sounds like a who’s who of Alabama football.

It includes some historic names (Hall of Fame linebacker Robert “Dr. Doom” Brazille and former All-Pro NFL offensive tackle Willie Anderson), some current NFL players (Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley and Oakland Raiders center Rodney Hudson) and all manner of heights and depths in between. Not to mention some players who will have some unique experiences to share, like former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, who had one of the more remarkable draft rises in history, only to struggle in the NFL under the weight of crushing expectations. Or former Dallas Cowboys running back Sherman Williams, who won a national championship at Alabama and a Super Bowl with the Cowboys, then served 14 years in prison before exiting and earning his degree from Alabama last May.

As Nagy framed it, the Senior Bowl is woven into the fabric of Mobile, and many of these former NFL players serve as remarkable threads of experience when it comes to the highs and lows of football and life. And Nagy would like to celebrate that fabric of the game, the brotherhood it creates for Mobile-area players who go through it, while also pulling those common threads closer to the community.

“I don’t think people realize how much football talent the [Mobile] area has generated, especially when you look at NFL rosters now,” Nagy said this week. “Nick Saban’s [run] at Alabama, this area has been a huge part of that. … So many of these guys have been willing to come back and be a part of the [Senior Bowl] experience and they have amazing stories and knowledge to share with this community. That’s important to us.”

Former All-Pro offensive tackle Willie Anderson has immense pride in his hometown of Mobile. (Getty Images)

It’s important enough that it has resonated beyond players who participated with the Senior Bowl, too. Case in point: Anderson, a former Cincinnati Bengal, entered the NFL draft as a junior from Auburn, but wanted to take part in the Ambassador Club as an alum of Mobile’s Vigor High School.

“If you’re from the Mobile area, there are two things that you brag about – Mardi Gras, because it began here, and the Senior Bowl,” Anderson said. “So you want to be a part of this. I want to be a part of it because I would like to talk to a lot of these kids about there being so much more out there in football that isn’t just playing. If your love is the game, there are a lot of jobs associated with football and a lot of things you can do with your career that aren’t just playing on the field. And I want to be able to talk to them about that, and also what it takes to get to those places. The dedication and discipline it takes.”

The specifics of the programs related to the Ambassador’s Club are expected to be announced as the game draws near. Until then, Nagy said the mission to draw in additional alums will continue.

“To all the men in our area that fit the Ambassador Club criteria that have yet to be contacted, please reach out to us at the Senior Bowl office,” Nagy said. “This project started with a few numbers I had stored in my cell phone over the years and the list just grew from there. If you have not been contacted, we apologize and we look forward to hearing from you in the near future.”

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