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A former NFL football player is changing the game for student-athletes


“Do you think there are scholarship-worthy student-athletes who go unnoticed by college coaches?”

WGN radio host Steve Bertrand posed this question to former Dallas Cowboy and NCSA EVP Izell Reese during a recent on-air interview. Izell’s response: “Absolutely! I would be the first person to raise my hand. I didn’t get a scholarship to play football in college.”

From college walk-on to NFL pro

Izell’s path to the NFL was anything but typical. A standout high school football player and honor student, he didn’t receive any college athletic scholarship offers by the end of his senior year. Not ready to hang up his cleats, Izell walked on at University of Alabama at Birmingham. He proved himself on the field, finishing his collegiate career second in tackles (276), fourth in career interceptions (8) and first in career interception return yardage (135 yards).

His impressive stats caught the eye of NFL Scouts. But it was his NFL Scouting Combine performance that helped clinch a spot in professional football. In fact, his standing long jump of over 11 feet still ranks as one of the best in the history of NFL Combines. Selected in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL Draft, Izell went on to play seven years for the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills.

Now, Izell is passionate about connecting families to the resources he didn’t have access to as a high school athlete. “When I started working with NCSA 10 years ago, the first thing I said to myself is, ‘This program could have helped me.’ I wouldn’t have been a walk on if I’d had a program like NCSA,” Izell said.

Kicking off the NFL-style Rivals New Speed Combine Series

To increase his reach in helping high school athletes, Izell has teamed up with other like-minded organizations. Recently, Izell became the general manager of the Rivals Camp and Combine Series Presented by adidas. “We’ve partnered up with Rivals and adidas to do these camps and combines, which are identical to the combine at the NFL. We’re going to be helping kids across the country. This is huge!” Izell said.

The Rivals New Speed Combines are the only free, national combine series this year, giving thousands of high school athletes the opportunity to get their verified combine numbers. And this is huge, as college coaches look for third-party verified stats when recruiting athletes. Recruits who have these numbers gain an upper hand over those who don’t.

Combines are open to all high school football players, who will go through five NFL-style drills designed to showcase their athletic ability. Attendees will leave their combine with a free NCSA recruiting profile, Rivals profile, adidas combine shirt, headshot to use in their profiles and verified combine numbers. If you’re curious to learn more about the Rivals Camp and Combine Series, check out this article. Combines will be taking place throughout the spring.

In his work at NCSA and with the Rivals Camp and Combine Series, Izell’s message is clear: You don’t have to struggle through the recruiting process alone. Instead, take advantage of NCSA’s countless resources that will give you the help you need to play your sport in college. To find out where to get started—and nail down the best scholarship for you—give us a call at 866-495-5172.

About the author
Kelly Mantick

Kelly Mantick is a writer at NCSA Next College Student Athlete.