In 37 years on the job, I covered three football players who went on to have conversations with NFL teams about going to that level.
The News Advertiser gave me the chance to cover Kyle McCann’s final game at Iowa, leading the Hawkeyes to coach Kirk Ferentz’s first bowl victory at the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Then, he was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the New York Jets.
He didn’t make the Jets roster in the fall of 2001, but did get an opportunity to play a year in NFL Europe before entering law school and launching another successful career.
One of McCann’s Creston teammates, Eric Owens, had his own stellar career at what was then Southwest Missouri State. He finished his career and intended to enter the work force after graduation.
At about draft time, the New York Giants expressed interest in him as a free agent. But, by then he had dropped 40 pounds from his offensive line days, had stopped training and football was in the rear view mirror. Still, it was a testament to his talent to field that inquiry. Both McCann and Owens were key parts of Creston’s 1997 state basketball championship.
Push forward 16 years and I found myself at Collin Bevins’ Creston home Saturday for day three of the 2017 NFL draft for rounds four through seven.
It was documented in Monday’s front-page article that while Bevins didn’t realize his dream of being drafted after a record-breaking career as a defensive end at Northwest Missouri State University, there was still a happy ending. Three teams wanted him as an undrafted free agent, and he accepted the offer from the Arizona Cardinals, the only team to bring him to their facility for a workout and medical screening.
Being an NFL player wasn’t a realistic goal for Bevins until he was named MIAA co-defensive player of the year as a junior with the Bearcats. But the road that took him there started much earlier, even before moving to Creston as a fifth grader when his dad, Jeff, succeeded Curt Olson as vice principal and activities director at Creston High School.
His athletic exploits are in part a credit to being pushed by big brother, Jared, now freshman football coach, assistant varsity wrestling coach and weight room coach at Harlan Community High School. Jared wrestled and played football at Simpson College.
It started as a little kid, wrestling with Mike Moreno’s sons in Clarinda. Later, he spent some elementary school years in Chariton before the move to Creston.
On Saturday, after the weight of the anticipation was off his shoulders and he’d accepted the Cardinals’ offer, he talked about how this dream evolved.
“In eighth grade I thought I’m pretty good at this, I could get used to playing this game for awhile,” Bevins said. “That’s when I started thinking about college.”
Then came some encouragement from coach Dick Bergstrom in his final year at the helm of the Panther program.
“After my sophomore year, coach Bergstrom reached out to me and said they hadn’t had a lot of sophomores come in and start every game, and asked if I was serious about playing college ball,” he said. “I started getting questionnaires from Division I schools and started thinking about it. At that point I wasn’t dreaming about the NFL at all.”
By the time he was a senior, Bevins was nearly 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and was a state wrestling champion and state track qualifier in the shuttle hurdles and 200 meters. He also played soccer when dual participation was still allowed.
“Iowa State was recruiting me and asked what I did in the spring to stay active,” Bevins said. “I said I played soccer. They said that’s OK, but I should probably be running track. I was glad I did. The stuff coach Evans and coach Schlapia taught me really helped me in the sprints and being explosive.”
He didn’t feel Iowa State was a good fit, personally, but he grew as a player while redshirting. Literally. He got up to 285 pounds and was moved inside to defensive tackle, where the Cyclones had roster needs.
Instead, he transferred to Northwest Missouri State. Both parents had gone there, his high school team had participated in team camps there. It had a winning tradition and he was drawn to the smaller, family atmosphere on the campus of the perennial Division II title contender.
He got to be a part of four conference championships and three national championships, which he still finds almost unbelievable.
“After that junior season I thought (the NFL) is a thing that could actually happen,” Bevins said. “That’s when I thought, ‘If I’m going to do this, I have to dedicate my life to this.’ I started putting in extra work after weights, pushing myself that much more. I got banged up with injuries, but I’m feeling good now and at Arizona they checked out everything and felt good about me, physically. I’m excited about getting down there May 11 and starting mini-camp.”
Watching all of that unfold Saturday was an interesting experience. One of my career highlights, really.
At the end of the evening I shook his hand and said, “Collin, it’s been a fun ride with you, and I think this is the highlight!”
So far, that is.
If Bevins ever plays in a Super Bowl, I think I’ll go into the boss’s office and say, “Um, yeah, remember that time you sent me to the Alamo Bowl? Well, there’s this other big game going on with a local kid, and ...”
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