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Gerard Gilberto | | September 30, 2015

Former DII players making impact in the NFL

Despite making a game clinching interception in Super Bowl XLIX, there were questions surrounding the ability of cornerback Malcolm Butler to be the New England Patriots top corner option on the team’s depth chart this season.

Butler played in just 16 percent of the defensive snaps for the Patriots on a 2014 team that featured Pro-Bowlers Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the secondary.

Any additional reservations about whether or not Butler could step into that role were guided by the idea that 2014 was just his rookie season, coming from a college that most of the country won’t see play on television.

Butler played for two seasons at West Alabama, a Division II school less than 200 miles from his hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Butler is one of more than 100 players from Division II schools on NFL rosters. West Texas A&M's 10 alumni in the NFL are the most for any school and the New Orleans Saints are the largest employers of former DII players with nine on the roster.

  Jackson was selected in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.
Butler is not the only name on the list of DII players in the big leagues that have displayed Super Bowl heroics in the past.

The NFL’s active leader in points scored, Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, attended South Dakota State before signing with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 1996.

Vinatieri has flair of the dramatic, hitting two Super Bowl winning field goals in his career. The first as time expired in a 20-17 Super Bowl XXXVI victory against the St. Louis Rams and the next also breaking a tie in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers.

Players like Vinatieri and Butler are proof that quality NFL players are built from more than the mold of a five-star recruit.

“I think coming out of a smaller school you can still get there. We have plenty of guys in the league from small schools,” Vinatieri said.

“You just have to, maybe when you get on to the roster, you have to make sure everybody understands that you deserve to be here, you’ve done a good job.”

Another NFL standout that played in the Division II is Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver and three-time Pro-Bowler Vincent Jackson.

Jackson, like Butler, stayed local and attended Northern Colorado before being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round in 2005. Jackson was drafted higher than someone from a DII school would ordinarily get selected after making a name for himself in the Senior Bowl and earning an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine. But Jackson echoed Vinatieri’s sentiment that simply getting exposure isn’t the end of the process.

“That was a big part for me. I really had to do well in those circumstances,” Jackson said. “Once I got in the league, I do think that making a splash or doing a little bit more as a smaller school guy -- maybe the expectations were a little bit lower for me to break that stigma.”

One of the draws of a Division II school, besides a student-athlete’s ability to stay somewhat local, is the opportunity for a greater amount of study time, which may seem more constrained at a school with a bigger football program.

“I always had dreams watching college football Saturdays and those big [Pac-12] or Big Ten schools. I would have loved to play for a school like that, but I was also very cognizant of what college was about,” Jackson said.

  Woodhead twice received the Harlon Hill Trophy.
“For me, first and foremost, it was about my education. I went to a great school for business and I was very happy about that part. I was excited that even at the Division II level, we were playing competitive ball.”

The 6-feet-5 Jackson was difficult not to notice for a league that values players with his size and strength. But another skill player that didn’t have size to offer put the NFL on notice.

Chadron State running back Danny Woodhead became only the third player to win multiple Harlon Hill Trophies -- the Division II equivalent to the Heisman -- after winning his second in 2007.

The 5-feet-8 Woodhead did not receive an invite to the combine and went undrafted in 2008. He eventually signed with the New York Jets and won a spot on the roster in 2009 after a historic performance in a preseason game.

Woodhead is currently in his third season with the Chargers after spending three seasons with the Patriots. He and Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell are the only Harlon Hill Trophy recipients on an active NFL roster.

Woodhead’s ability to stick in the NFL has often been credited to his work ethic and Vinatieri -- a 19-year veteran -- noticed a similar pattern for players with longer professional careers.

“There are a lot of exceptionally talented athletes in here, but the ones that make it and the ones that stick around are the ones that work really hard,” Vinatieri said. “Hard work trumps physical talent all the time in my mind. … After a certain amount of time you realize that you deserve to be here and years go on and careers get made.”

While most agree that the hard work is what makes a career in the NFL, others struggle to simply get their foot in the door with professional teams.

Just ask LaVance Taylor.

The former Central Missouri running back took to Twitter to display his video resume to the league. He eventually signed with the hometown Kansas City Chiefs but was cut at the start of August and currently plays in the Canadian Football League.

As for the future of Division II alumni, the current leaders of the charge aren’t sure whether or not their legacy will blaze a trail for the next generation, but would like to see the numbers grow.

“I do think of guys like Jerry Rice coming from a small school. I do think that there’s talent out there,” Vinatieri said. “The scouts do a great job finding good talent out there. I don’t think the exposure is quite the same, but if you do a good job and you work hard enough and do your due diligence you can make it. Somebody will find you.”

Player Position NFL Team School Conference
Douglas McNeil WR Seattle Bowie State CIAA
Edawn Coughman OL Washington Shaw CIAA
Carlos Fields LB Indianapolis Winston-Salem CIAA
William Hayes DE St. Louis Winston-Salem CIAA
Greg Toler CB Indianapolis St. Paul's# CIAA
Caleb Holley WR Buffalo East Central GAC
Armonty Bryant DE Cleveland East Central GAC
Ty Powell LB Buffalo Harding GAC
Phillip Supernaw TE Baltimore Ouachita Baptist GAC
Cedric Thornton DE Philadelphia Southern Arkansas GAC
Jamie Meder DT Cleveland Ashland GLIAC
Jeris Pendleton DT Indianapolis Ashland GLIAC
Cameron Bradfield T Arizona Grand Valley GLIAC
Nick McDonald OL Cleveland Grand Valley GLIAC
Brandon Carr CB Dallas Grand Valley GLIAC
Dan Skuta LB Jacksonville Grand Valley GLIAC
Charles Johnson WR Minnesota Grand Valley GLIAC
Tim Lelito G New Orleans Grand Valley GLIAC
Jared Veldheer T Arizona Hillsdale GLIAC
Andre Holmes WR Oakland Hillsdale GLIAC
Joe Berger T Minnesota Michigan Tech GLIAC
Jeff Heath S Dallas Saginaw Valley GLIAC
Jeff Janis WR Green Bay Saginaw Valley GLIAC
Todd Herremans T Indianapolis Saginaw Valley GLIAC
Nate Washington WR Houston Tiffin GLIAC
Chris Ivory RB New York Jets Tiffin GLIAC
Joseph Morgan WR New Orleans Walsh GLIAC
Joique Bell RB Detroit Wayne State (Mich) GLIAC
Joe Don Duncan TE Denver Dixie State GNAC
Taylor Boggs C Detroit Humboldt State GNAC
Matt Overton LS Indianapolis Western Washington## GNAC
Michael Koenen P Tampa Bay Western Washington## GNAC
Preston Parker WR New York Giants North Alabama GSC
Janoris Jenkins CB St. Louis North Alabama GSC
Ryan Schraeder T Atlanta Valdosta State GSC
Larry Dean LB Buffalo Valdosta State GSC
Edmund Kugbila G Carolina Valdosta State GSC
Lawrence Virgil DT New Orleans Valdosta State GSC
Seantavius Jones WR New Orleans Valdosta State GSC
Malcolm Butler CB New England West Alabama GSC
Seth Roberts WR Oakland West Alabama GSC
Freddie Martino WR Atlanta North Greenville IND
Amini Silatolu G Carolina Midwestern State LSC
Andy Tanner WR New Orleans Midwestern State LSC
Dashaun Phillips CB New York Jets Tarleton State LSC
Danny Mason LB Denver Texas A&M-Commerce LSC
Roberto Garza C Chicago Texas A&M-Kingsville LSC
Brittan Golden WR Arizona West Texas A&M LSC
Nathan Slaughter WR Arizona West Texas A&M LSC
Bryan Johnson DE Buffalo West Texas A&M LSC
Dustin Vaughan QB Dallas West Texas A&M LSC
Khiry Robinson RB New Orleans West Texas A&M LSC
Bryan Braman LB Philadelphia West Texas A&M LSC
Craig Watts G San Diego West Texas A&M LSC
Torrence Allen WR San Diego West Texas A&M LSC
Ethan Westbrooks DT St. Louis West Texas A&M LSC
Eugene Sims DE St. Louis West Texas A&M LSC
Danieal Manning S Houston Abilene Christian* LSC
Daryl Richardson RB New York Jets Abilene Christian* LSC
Clyde Gates WR Tennessee Abilene Christian* LSC
Dominique Jones TE Denver Shepherd MEC
Howard Jones LB Pittsburgh Shepherd MEC
Delanie Walker TE Tennessee Central Missouri MIAA
Jermelle Cudjo DT Detroit Central Oklahoma MIAA
Adam Schlitz TE Kansas City Emporia State MIAA
Pierre Desir CB Cleveland Lindenwood MIAA
Brandon Williams DT Baltimore Missouri Southern MIAA
Allen Barbre T Philadelphia Missouri Southern MIAA
David Bass DE Chicago Missouri Western MIAA
Greg Zuerlein K St. Louis Missouri Western MIAA
Michael Hill RB Washington Missouri Western MIAA
Mason Brodine TE St. Louis Nebraska-Kearney MIAA
Michael Bowie OL Cleveland Northeastern State MIAA
Brian Dixon CB New Orleans Northwest Missouri MIAA
Brandon Dixon CB Tampa Bay Northwest Missouri MIAA
John Brown WR Arizona Pittsburg State MIAA
Brian Folkerts C Carolina Washburn MIAA
Michael Wilhoite LB San Francisco Washburn MIAA
Cary Williams CB Seattle Washburn MIAA
Zach Miller TE Chicago Nebraska-Omaha* NCC
Vincent Jackson WR Tampa Bay Northern Colorado* NCC
Adam Vinatieri K Indianapolis South Dakota State* NCC
Scott Simonson TE Oakland Assumption NE-10
Mackenzy Bernedau G Dallas Bentley NE-10
Shawn Loiseau ILB Indianapolis Merrimack NE-10
Ike Igbinosun DE Jacksonville Southern Connecticut NE-10
Jerome Cunningtham TE New York Giants Southern Connecticut NE-10
Brian Leonhardt TE Oakland Bemidji State NSIC
Zach Moore DL New England Concordia-St. Paul NSIC
Fred Williams WR Kansas City St. Cloud NSIC
Larry Webster DE Detroit Bloomsburg PSAC
Matt Feiler T Houston Bloomsburg PSAC
Jahri Evans G New Orleans Bloomsburg PSAC
Dewey McDonald S Indianapolis California PSAC
Tommie Campbell DB Jacksonville California PSAC
Eric Kush C Kansas City California PSAC
Rontez Miles S New York Jets California PSAC
C.J. Goodwin WR Pittsburgh California PSAC
Rishaw Johnson G Washington California PSAC
Ian Wild S Pittsburgh Mercyhurst PSAC
John Kuhn RB Green Bay Shippensburg PSAC
Brent Grimes CB Miami Shippensburg PSAC
Brandon Fusco G Minnesota Slippery Rock PSAC
Danny Woodhead RB San Diego Chadron State RMAC
Garrett Gilkey T Tampa Bay Chadron State RMAC
Ryan Jensen C Baltimore CSU-Pueblo RMAC
Mike Pennel DT Green Bay CSU-Pueblo RMAC
Chris Jones P Dallas Carson-Newman SAC
Jumal Rolle DB Houston Catawba SAC
L.J. McCray DB San Francisco Catawba SAC
Ron Parker DB Kansas City Newberry SAC
Brandon Bostick TE Minnesota Newberry SAC
Corey Washington WR New York Giants Newberry SAC
Marquette King P Oakland Fort Valley SIAC
Ricardo Lockette WR Seattle Fort Valley SIAC
Trey Wolfe CB Washington Fort Valley SIAC
Jacoby Jones WR San Diego Lane SIAC
Chigbo Anunoby DL Minnesota Morehouse SIAC
Junior Galette DE New Orleans Stillman SIAC
Sammie Hill DT Tennessee Stillman SIAC

Complete list provided by

# -- St. Paul’s College closed in 2013.

## -- Western Washington discontinued football after the 2008 season.

* -- School transitioned to Division I.

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