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NFL hopefuls try to impress in Classic

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Former Purdue quarterback Robert Marve remembers watching Montgomery's Blue-Gray game when he was a kid and hoping to play in it someday.

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That old Christmas day tradition has been defunct for a decade, but Marve and other college seniors hoping for pro football careers are playing in Saturday's first Raycom College Football All-Star Classic in the same stadium.

``You're always kind of looking at it as, that's where you're going to be when you grow up,'' Marve said of the Blue-Gray game that ran for six-plus decades.

The game, and newly renovated Cramton Bowl, has had a makeover since the last one was played in Montgomery in 2002 before moving an hour away to Troy University's stadium for one year.

It features players from BCS national championship game opponents Notre Dame and Alabama and an assortment of other big-name schools, along with prospects from smaller programs also trying to catch the attention of NFL teams.

Former Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves will coach the Stripes and Jim Bates, who was a longtime NFL assistant, heads the Stars team. Reeves said he wants to help the players ``put on a good show'' and that he watches enough college football during the season to appreciate the talent level at schools big and small.

``There's just an awful lot of talent out there,'' he said. ``When you only have 32 NFL teams and there's just a small number when you think about the United States and how many great players there are out there. All they need is an opportunity and a chance. There's a lot of talent here.''

Marve, Iowa's James Vanderberg and Mars Hills' Jon Richt - son of Georgia coach Mark Richt - will quarterback the Stripes team.

That squad also features Georgia linebackers Michael Gilliard and Christian Robinson and defensive linemen Isaac Remington (Oregon) and Jamarkus McFarland (Oklahoma).

Pittsburgh's Tino Sunseri, California's Zach Maynard and Murray State's Casey Brockman are the Stars quarterbacks.

While LSU kicker Drew Alleman is on the opposite side, four of his former teammates will line up for the Stars - wide receiver Russell Shepard, offensive lineman Josh Dworaczyk and defensive linemen Chancey Aghayere and Josh Downs.

Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr. and wide receiver Robby Toma get one more crack at several Alabama counterparts, this time as part of the Stars team. Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley, longsnapper Carson Tinker and backup defensive lineman Quinton Dial are on the Stripes.

The Crimson Tide beat the Fighting Irish 42-14 on Jan. 7 in the national title game in Miami. So moving right on to job auditions isn't so bad for Golic.

``You're obviously never going to forget something like that,'' he said. ``It's going to stick around forever but to get back out here and be able to get back to work and what we all love doing, it helps take your mind off it a little bit and just get back to playing football.''

Among the quarterbacks, Brockman had an adjustment early in the week after estimating he took 10 snaps from under center in Murray State's Oregon-style no-huddle spread offense, mostly for sneaks.

Brockman ranked third in Football Championship Subdivision with 339 passing yards per game and completed a nation's-leading 32.6 passes a game. He's embracing the chance to compete against players from higher-division schools.

``It's a huge opportunity for me and some other small-school guys just because we want to prove we can play at the level and speed of the guys from LSU and Alabama,'' he said. ``It's a good opportunity and it's a neat experience.''

Sunseri is well-acquainted with the state. His brother, Vinnie, is a safety for Alabama and his father, Sal, is a former Tide assistant. Plus, Sunseri and the Panthers have played in Birmingham's Compass Bowl for three straight years.

He might have a leg up among QBs trying to quickly grasp a new system. Sunseri played for three head coaches and four offensive coordinators at Pitt but finished with his best season.

``It's a huge benefit,'' said Sunseri, who threw for 21 touchdowns and was intercepted just four times as a senior. ``You already learned different ways of understanding terminology and different ways of being able to ride out plays and find the easiest way to pick it up as fast as you can, because you want to be one of those guys that's out there on the field helping people direct traffic, make sure that you can help people line up.

``That's what your position is when you're playing quarterback.''

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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