The Bowling Green Falcons have two players, Alex Bayer and Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates, who appear to have the potential to be selected in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. If either (or both) are selected, they will continue a long tradition of Falcons taking flight into the professional ranks, one that dates back to 65 years ago.
The list of BGSU draftees goes 69 players deep and includes two current NFL starters, a guy who owns three Super Bowl rings, and another who was an integral part of an innovative passing attack in the time when passing was not nearly as important as it is today.
The first Falcons player taken in an NFL draft was Max Minnich in 1949. Despite being a 10th round pick by the Los Angeles Rams, he was not able to stick in the league. Two more players were selected in the following year's draft, and the Cleveland Browns took both. First, the Browns took Jack Woodland, a back, in the 24th round. They followed up by selecting Bob Schnelker in the 29th round.
Schnelker was a successful end for BGSU and caught 53 passes and scored 16 touchdowns with the Falcons. He would ultimately become one of the first members of the BGSU Athletics Hall of Fame. He did not make it with the Browns, but in 1953, he signed to play with the Eagles. He moved on to the New York Giants in 1954 and spent seven seasons there. In 1958 and 1959, he played in back-to-back NFL Championships, including the first-ever overtime game against Baltimore in 1958. In the 1959 title game, he caught nine passes for 175 yards and a touchdown.
Schnelker finished his career with 211 receptions, 3,667 yards and 33 touchdowns. He followed his playing career with a long tenure in the NFL as an assistant coach. His most notable stop was in Green Bay, where he coached under Vince Lombardi on the Packer teams that won the first two Super Bowls.
The Falcons had several other players drafted during the 1950s. Jim Ladd was taken in the 20th round of the 1954 draft and caught 22 passes in 11 career games for the Chicago Cardinals, and Ken Russell played in 26 games over three seasons for the Detroit Lions after being drafted in the sixth round in 1957. However, it was not until 1961 that BGSU had a true impact player in the NFL.
Bowling Green Falcons Draft History - Key Players
Bowling Green won the small college national championship in 1959, and that team produced some outstanding stars. Perhaps none was better than Bernie Casey. He led that championship team in receiving, but he was also a star in track and field. Casey was in the finals at the 1960 U.S. Olympic Trials as a high-hurdler and was a MAC champion in the event.
Casey was taken ninth overall in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers in 1961. To this day, he is the highest draft pick in BGSU history. He played for six seasons with the 49ers and two more with the Rams before retiring. He was a starter for six of those eight seasons and caught at least 50 passes five times. He finished with 359 receptions, 5,444 yards and 40 touchdowns. Casey became an actor after his football career ended and appeared in a plethora of movies and television shows, including "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Spies Like Us".
Casey was among the first of 24 players from Bowling Green that were drafted during the 1960s. Jack Harbaugh, father to current NFL coaches John and Jim Harbaugh, was drafted in 1961 by Buffalo. Others included Don Lisbon, another halfback drafted by the 49ers. Bob Reynolds, a tackle, was a second round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1963 and spent 10 years on their offensive line. BGSU had another tackle taken as a second-round pick when the Atlanta Falcons selected Jerry Jones (not THAT Jerry Jones) in 1967.
Three defensive players drafted in the latter part of the 1960s were able to stick, if only briefly, in the NFL. Jay Cunningham had a brief career as a defensive back and kick returner with the Boston Patriots, and he returned one of his three career interceptions for a touchdown. Jamie Rivers started 51 games at linebacker over eight seasons with the Cardinals and New York Jets. Mike Weger was drafted in the 9th round by the Detroit Lions in 1967 and played more than 100 games in eight seasons for them. He totaled 17 career interceptions.
If you're wondering what BGSU draftees did on a championship stage, one player's name comes to mind: Phil Villapiano. Villapiano was taken in the 2nd round, as the 45th overall pick, by the Oakland Raiders in 1971. He played in every game and started all but one during eight of his nine seasons with Oakland. During that time, Villapiano helped the Raiders to a 92-34-4 overall record, five AFC Championship Game appearances, and a Super Bowl XI win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Villapiano compiled 11 career interceptions during the regular season but also made his make in playoff games. In the "Sea of Hands" playoff game against Miami in 1974, he had an interception that helped the Raiders end Miami's three-year run as AFC champions. In the Super Bowl win over the Vikings, he had a sack. Villapiano ultimately finished his career with four seasons in Buffalo.
Several other players were drafted in the 1970s that had short moments in the professional ranks. Fred Sturt was a Cardinals' 3rd-round pick in 1973 as an offensive lineman. He would ultimately play for several years with Washington, New England and New Orleans. Quarterback Mark Miller was another 3rd round pick, in 1978 by the Browns. He played in Cleveland for two years and appeared in 10 games, albeit none as a starter.
Dave Preston was an outstanding running back for BGSU in the mid-1970s, and he was rewarded as a draft pick of New England in 1977. He eventually made the roster of the Denver Broncos He played there for six years and led the 10-6 Broncos in 1981 with over 1,100 yards from scrimmage. He finished his career with 3,216 yards rushing and receiving. Meanwhile, Jeff Groth was a receiver drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 1979. He later started in 51 games over several seasons with New Orleans and caught 152 career passes for 2,126 yards.
After the 1970s, BGSU began seeing fewer and fewer players taken from their ranks in NFL drafts. No players at all were selected in 1981 or 1982 -- the first time in 30 years that BGSU had gone two straight drafts without a drafted player. In 1984, Martin Bayless was selected in the 4th round by the Cardinals. He ultimately played in (192) and started (135) more games than any other BGSU player in NFL history. He found himself on several NFL rosters but primarily played safety for the San Diego Chargers. His 12-year NFL career ended with 12 interceptions and 11.5 sacks.
Few quarterbacks from BGSU have ever been drafted, and only one has ever earned a start in an NFL game. Even that has to come with an asterisk. Brian McClure was picked in the 12th round of the 1986 draft by the Buffalo Bills. His only career start was in the 5th game of the 1987 season -- as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL players' strike. He completed 20 of 38 passes and was intercepted three times, but he led the Bills to a 6-3 win over the New York Giants.
The last time BGSU had two players selected in the same draft was 1990, when wide receivers Reggie Thornton and Ronald Heard were taken in the 5th and 6th rounds, respectively. After punter Cris Shale was drafted in 1991, the Falcons had only one player (Charlie Williams, 1995) taken between 1991 and 2004. Finally, Josh Harris broke that streak in 2004. He and Omar Jacobs (2006) were back-to-back starting quarterbacks taken from Bowling Green, but neither ever played a down in the NFL. In between, Scott Mruczkowski was drafted in 2005 by San Diego, and he played backup on the offensive line there for several seasons.
That leaves us with two players, both of whom are current NFL starters. Kory Lichtensteiger was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 4th round in 2008. He played for the Broncos in 2008 and then caught on with the Washington Redskins. He's been a starter for Washington at left guard ever since, and he's protected the blind side of Robert Griffin III for each of the 32 games over the last two seasons.
It took five more years, but Chris Jones became the most recent selection from Bowling Green when the Houston Texans selected him in the 6th round of last year's draft. Jones was cut by both Houston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was quickly signed by the New England Patriots in September. With New England, he became a starter and tallied a fantastic six sacks. His play became an integral part of the Patriots' run to the AFC Championship game.
Will Bayer or Gates join this group of over five dozen men? Only time will tell, but if not, it's a good bet that Bowling Green's new Dino Babers offense will eventually produce players that can be added to this list.