ST. PETERSBURG — The two East-West Shrine Games played at Tropicana Field drew announced attendances of 18,000, and organizers are confident that Saturday's game can surpass 20,000 for the senior showcase game.
Advance ticket sales have been ahead of last year's pace, officials say, and the game continues to solidify its presence in St. Petersburg, where it moved in 2012 after two years in Orlando.
Games in the Citrus Bowl, a larger venue, were marked by poor attendance — less than 10,000 each game.
The game, televised on NFL Network, is under contract for another year at Tropicana Field. Harold Richardson, the former Falcons general manager and the game's executive director, said last week that he'll pursue a two-year extension after this year's game.
TWO-SPORT STAR: Another small-school player to watch is DE Larry Webster of Division II Bloomsburg. Webster switched to college football last year after a four-year basketball career with the Huskies, averaging double-digit scoring all four years. The 6-foot-7, 250-pounder had 12½ sacks and 16 tackles for losses this season. Webster earned Division II All-America honorable mention honors in 2012. Even though Bloomsburg is in Pennsylvania, he'll play for the West team on Saturday.
THIS AND THAT: Most pro scouts and coaches finished their evaluations from practice Wednesday, leaving teams to work on details in Thursday's drills. East coach Jerry Glanville went so far as to practice coverage of onside kicks ... Former Broncos LB Steve Atwater and former Rams T Tony Berti will be inducted into the East-West Shrine Game Hall of Fame today. Atwater played in the 1989 game after playing at Arkansas, while Colorado's Berti played in 1995. ... One more small-school player with a chance to show something Saturday: Valdosta State WR Seantavius Jones, a big target at 6-3 who had 13 touchdowns in each of his final two seasons. Jones had six touchdown catches against Delta State — four in the fourth quarter — but Valdosta still lost 63-55.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. Follow him on Twitter at @greguman.