By Scott Boyter
Back in November, RattleandHumSports.com published a story on Oklahoma State center Evan Epstein’s chances of grabbing the attention of an NFL team for the draft. Despite anchoring a Cowboy line that helped the OSU offense put up incredible numbers, Epstein was getting zero attention.
But that has all changed, and now he has a shot.
Epstein, who attended Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, received an invitation to play in the Texas Vs. The Nation college all-star game, to be played Saturday at 1:30 at Eagle Stadium in Allen. The game, which will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest, is expected to draw more than 200 NFL scouts, coaches and front office personnel.
Former Dallas Cowboys defensive back and special teams standout Bill Bates will coach the Texas team, while college football coaching legend Howard Schnellenberger will head The Nation squad.
Since the game began in 2007, more than 500 Texas Vs. The Nation participants have gone on to sign NFL contracts, and more than 80 have been selected in the NFL Draft. Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon impressed scouts at this event in 2008, and Baltimore Ravens CB Ladarius Webb also turned heads at the game.
“We’re right behind the Senior Bowl as far as talent is concerned,” said Texas Vs. The Nation CEO/President Kenny Hansmire. “We’re solidly number two in terms of college all-star games.
“We’re the only all-star game that has had more than 100 players sign NFL contracts the last four years,” Hansmire said. “During that time, we’re at about 98 percent of players who have signed contracts.”
Hard to get noticed
Epstein hasn’t received a lot of publicity, ironically, because he performed so well during the season. Offensive linemen, for the most part, are like referees, or umpires in baseball. They typically don’t attract a lot of attention when they’re doing their job well – it’s only when they screw up that they get notice.
But numbers don’t lie, and Epstein played a big role in helping Oklahoma State put up huge ones.
OSU finished No. 3 in the nation in total offense (7,111 yards), No. 4 in the country in yards per game (547) and No. 3 in the country in points per game (45.7). Running back Joseph Randle to lead the Big 12 in rushing with 1,417 yards, good for No. 14 in the country.
In 2012, the Oklahoma State offensive line allowed only 12 sacks even though the team attempted 475 passes. Compare that sack total – tied for the seventh fewest in the nation – to national champion Alabama, which allowed 23 sacks even though the Crimson Tide attempted 147 fewer passes. Florida, which appeared in a BCS bowl, allowed 39 sacks on 187 fewer pass attempts.
The 6-3, 295-pound Epstein, who already has his graduate degree in business management, started 29 games over his career at both center and guard.
“We’re not really sure why Evan was overlooked, because he did anchor a great offensive line at Oklahoma State,” Hansmire said. “I think a little bit of it was he got lost in the shuffle because he transferred (from the Air Force Academy) and then he was behind an All-American for a year after that.
“When you don’t allow any sacks during a season your name is hardly brought up. He did such a good job he wasn’t talked about a whole lot. But the kid can play.”
Time to grab some attention
Dane Brugler, an analyst with NFLDraftScout.com, said in November that Epstein’s best chance of getting in front of scouts was to get an invitation to a postseason all-star game, and the best chance of that happening was Texas Vs. The Nation.
“I’ve seen him twice and he’s looked good, especially for being a first-year starter,” said Brugler at the time. “He seems to be a quick learner and he’s tough. He’s shown good range, and does a good job of getting to the second level.
“He needs to improve in a few areas, because he’s inconsistent,” Brugler said. “He needs to do a better job with his hands to control defenders, and use blocking angles to wall off defensive linemen.”
Bates said Epstein and all of the players were receiving ample opportunities to show what they can do in practice – and in front of scouts.
“The number one thing is this is a chance for all the kids to compete against other players in full pads,” Bates said. “All the players will be pitted against other good players in one-on-one matchups – and not just one time.
“Hopefully, they’ll be able to show enough to make their dream come true,” he said. “For guys who are on the bubble, free agent types, this is their chance to either get drafted or go to a training camp.
“But really, the main thing is to get into a camp – who cares whether or not you’re drafted?”
Ready to run with the chance
Typically, the week leading up to any college all-star game is more important than the contest itself. While playing well in the game is a great bonus, if a player is going to get a shot at a contract, he has to turn heads in practice.
Epstein did just that. As a result, he was drawing the attention of scouts. Playing both center and guard, as he did during his Oklahoma State career, he shined in inside run drills and one-on-one pass rush drills. Epstein is one of only two offensive linemen in the game playing two positions; this versatility will only enhance his NFL stock.
“Defensive tackle David King of Oklahoma started the practice very well during the 9-on-7 period where the offensive line struggled to block him, but in the one-on-one pass rush, he couldn’t get a sniff,” wrote Bryan Broaddus on DallasCowboys.com. “Evan Epstein stoned him several times.”
While it is too early to tell whether or not he’s done enough to be drafted, the work he has put in has solidified his chances of signing a free agent contract and getting an invitation to an NFL training camp.
“It’s been emotional the last few weeks not knowing if I was going to get a shot,” Epstein said. “I always felt I could play in the NFL; that it’s where I belong. I’ve watched a lot of guys play across the country this season, and I’ve felt I’m better than most of them.
“It’s just about getting that one chance – luckily for me I’m getting it. I’m going to make the most of it.”