Eastern Illinois QB catches eye in Shrine Game practices

Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo passed for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns on the Division I-AA level this season.
Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo passed for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns on the Division I-AA level this season.
Published Jan. 14, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — The East-West Shrine Game quarterback you have probably heard of is Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting this season.

But he's hardly the only QB worth learning about for Saturday's game at Tropicana Field. Consider Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, who led his team to the Division I-AA national semifinals while putting up Peyton Manning-worthy statistics: 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns in 14 games, with just nine interceptions.

"It's exciting, especially just putting the pads on today, you get those first-day jitters again," said Garoppolo, 6 feet 3 and 222 pounds. "I'm meeting a lot of cool people, interesting scouts and everything."

Even with a small-school background, Garoppolo is projected among the top 10 QBs in the draft — ESPN has him with the eighth-highest grade, ahead of Georgia's Aaron Murray and Clemson's Tajh Boyd.

The NFL's top 12 QBs in passing yards this season included two I-AA alums — Dallas' Tony Romo is from Garoppolo's alma mater, and Baltimore's Joe Flacco played at Delaware. And Garoppolo ran Baylor's offense at EIU, which was coached by former Baylor receivers coach Dino Babers.

"I'm just competing like I do every day, so it's nothing different for me," said Garoppolo, who went 38-for-50 for 321 yards and four total touchdowns in his final college game.

The West team has Notre Dame's Tommy Rees, Washington's Keith Price and Ball State's Keith Wenning, but the East has another I-AA standout in Cornell's Jeff Mathews, who said his goal isn't to show he belongs with the players from well-known colleges, but actually the opposite.

"I don't want to fit in. I want to stand out. That's my goal in this whole thing," said Mathews, who threw for 2,953 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Big Red. "If you come out here and compete, no one cares where you're from. The goal is just to make a name for yourself."

THIS AND THAT: Looking for locals? LB DeDe Lattimore is the only USF player in the game, and there's Alonso and Florida State DT Demonte McAllister. Two players are from Lakewood — Toledo WR Bernard Reedy and Western Kentucky LB Xavius Boyd. … Two players were late additions Monday — Texas left tackle Donald Hawkins and Stanford G/C Khalil Wilkes. … Among the big names watching Monday's practices: Bears coach Marc Trestman, Redskins GM Bruce Allen, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli and former Ohio State coach John Cooper, now a Bengals scout.