Zo huddle
Photo Credit: KMBC

FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – Super Bowl LV Will Feature Key Players Who Were Once Underrecruited

Franchise Sports Media

 

In looking at the journey of some of Feb. 7’s big game representatives, the Zo Huddle discovered that for some Chief and Buccaneer players, their trek to Tampa began with one of the following: Having no stars, going unranked or receiving no athletic scholarship offers. But now, those players will play a pivotal role in going after the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

 

The oldest truth in sports: America loves underdog stories.

Among them: Finding those players who overcame odds – in this case, the guys who weren’t considered high-profile recruits or high draft prospects yet managed to either protect Tom Brady/Patrick Mahomes, become an additional offensive weapon for them or solidify the defense during their march to Raymond James Stadium.

The Zo Huddle discovered players on both Super Bowl representatives who match the description. These are the athletes who once didn’t see their names on a Power-5 scholarship board or hear their names called on Draft Day, or in the case of one Bucs linebacker, had to search for a new collegiate home after his NCAA Division II program shuttered.

This will be a four-part series helping guide the build-up to the Super Bowl. Here first are the defenders on Tampa Bay who were once under-recruited, unranked, un-offered by several schools, undrafted, and now…are among the unsung cornerstones of the 2020-21 NFC champions:

 

Shaquil “Shaq” Barrett, linebacker

 

How it started: University of Nebraska-Omaha

Somewhere in the middle: Colorado State

How it’s going: 30.5 sacks in last 32 games

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: NFL

The Baltimore native who relocated to Boys Town (Neb.) – a suburb of Omaha – was a late bloomer on the recruiting trail with only the Mavericks offering him the chance for continuation of his football career.

But in 2010, the program played its final game…leaving Barrett to find a new home through a football sales push and faith.

Colorado State took in the former D-II linebacker. He responded by earning Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

Then came his latest hurdle: Going undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. But he has made opposing quarterbacks pay ever since with 41.5 career sacks (30.5 coming between the timeframe of Sept. 8, 2019 to Jan. 24’s NFC title game in Green Bay).

By the way, he’s the only MWC representative on the NFC side come Feb. 7.

 

Rakeem Nunez-Roches

 

How it started: Belize

Somewhere in the middle: Three-star prospect by 247Sports with one reported offer from Southern Miss

How it’s going: 82 career tackles (45 solo) in a six-year career

From Belize to the Buccaneers, “Nacho” has become a unique story of perseverance.

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Times

He hails from the town of Dangriga; with a population of over 9,000 and known for being the birthplace of the Caribbean music genre Punta Rock (in the Reggae family).  He reportedly grew up with a mother who spoke broken English and made the bold decision to move her and her son out of the Caribbean to the United States. And despite moving around, it was inside the U.S. where “Nacho” began his affinity for sports.

Football, though, became the 6-foot-2, 307-pounder’s calling after a brief basketball try. He became the state of Alabama’s 40th best prospect according to 247Sports after guiding the Red Devils to a 10-2 mark. Southern Miss, however, was his lone reported scholarship opportunity after starring at Phenix City (Ala.) Central High.

He went on to terrorize opposing offensive line units and ball carriers as an All-Conference USA performer, including snatching 14 tackles for a loss in 2014. The biological sciences major then fell to the sixth round of the NFL Draft before the Chiefs took him in.

Now, he’s the first NFL player of Belizean descent plus has gotten a chance to crack the two-deep on the Bucs‘ defensive line. And, his 70th career game will be against the team that drafted him.

 

Jason Pierre-Paul

 

How it started: Junior College

Somewhere in the middle: Committed to the University of South Florida as a two-star prospect

How it’s going: Three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl XLVI ring

Pierre-Paul went through the JUCO Struggle: Coming to California from Deerfield Beach (Fla.) and landing at College of the Canyons.

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Bucs Nation

While 2,726.6 miles away from home, Pierre-Paul snatched 19 tackles for a loss for COC but heard little from FBS coaches. He then relocated to Kansas and played for Fort Scott Community College where he became a JUCO All-American.

USF eventually took him in during a time the Bulls played in the former Big East Conference. He went on to be named an All-American in 2009 by Pro Football Weekly for the following stats: 45 tackles, 16.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, and one interception return for the touchdown.

Now, the 32-year-old plays a pivotal role in the Bucs’ pass-rushing looks. And after beating Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, he’ll be on Brady’s side this time around for the big game.

 

Sean Murphy-Bunting

 

How it started: Zero Division I offers by National Signing Day and unrated by any recruiting services

Somewhere in the middle: Signed as a grayshirt recruit to Central Michigan

How it’s going: Former second-round draft choice with three interceptions during the NFL playoffs

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Times

Murphy-Bunting tried everything to get noticed by recruiters: Attending various camps, emailing or direct message his highlight reel, and trying to make a name for himself at Clinton Township (Mich.) Chippewa Valley High, located 37 minutes north of Detroit.

No stars, no offers, and no scholarship offer extended to him during the February 2015 recruiting cycle.

Murphy-Bunting was inches away from committing to D-II Ferris State in Minnesota until CMU decided to reward him with the opportunity to sign on in March as a gray shirt. SMB took the offer, sat at home for a season, then emerged as one of the MAC’s top lockdown CB’s from 2016-18. His athleticism turned him into a high second-round choice at No. 39 in the 2019 Draft.

After only swooping up one INT during the regular season, SMB has flipped a switch: Snatching a pick in his first three career playoff games – becoming the first NFL player to do so since Hall of Famer Ed Reed. And two of those takeaways came against past Super Bowl MVP’s Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

 

Next: Zo Huddle takes a look at the Kansas City Chief defenders who were once unranked, under-recruited, undrafted, and are now unsung cornerstones of their pursuit to defend their SB title.

 

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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @LJ_Reyna

 

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