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9 former MAC football players to participate in 2022 Spiral Tropical Bowl

The Spiral Tropical Bowl, kicking off in Orlando on Saturday, includes the most MAC alum to play a collegiate all-star game in the 2022 campaign.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Citrus Bowl - Michigan v Alabama Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Spiral Tropical Bowl has reached its sixth year as a postseason collegiate all-star game, and the 2022 version is set to have four former Mid-American Conference stars in featuring roles.

During the week, participants have the chance to interact with coaches and scouts from various pro leagues, including the Canadian Football League, XFL, United States Football League and Arena Football for interview opportunities and combine workouts, with film of the practices and combine session forwarded to NFL scouts afterwards.

If you’re interested in watching the game, it is set for a 4 p.m. Eastern time/3 p.m. Central time kickoff from Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, and will be a streaming-exclusive broadcast, with a $19.99 pay-per-view set-up provided by Florida-based varsity Sports Network.

Here are the nine players set to take part in the event, per the Tropical Bowl website:

Team National

  • Drew Plitt, QB, Ball State

A three-year starter for Ball State after the transfer of Riley Neal to Vanderbilt, Plitt, a Loveland, Ohio native, leaves Muncie as a MAC champion in 2020, while also finishing amongst the top of Ball State QBs in several passing categories.

The 2021 campaign saw Plitt throw for 2,541 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions on a 60 percent completion rating, his second-best statistical season next to his breakout 2019 season. Plitt made it to the all-MAC list in 2020 as second-team QB after leading Ball State to the MAC title in the pandemic-shortened season, averaging 270 yards per game through the air. He was also smart as they come, hitting the academic all-MAC list three-straight times from 2018 to 2020. (The 2021 list is not out as of publication.)

Plitt finishes his career at Ball State with 9,062 passing yards for 68 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, while also picking up 14 rushing touchdowns.

  • Alvinoski LaFleur, DB, Eastern Michigan

“Noski” LaFleur anchored an unconventional EMU defense for Chris Creighton from the safety position, earning all-MAC first-team honors in the 2020 season in his first full season as an Eagle after transferring from Coffeyville [KS] CC.

The Lake Charles, Louisiana native finished the 2021 season with 51 tackles, including 1.5 tackles-for-loss and sacks, one fumble forced and one fumble recovered in 11 games. Over his career, LaFleur proved a confident tackler, finishing with 104 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, three interceptions, six passes defenses, three forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles.

  • Troy Hairston II, EDGE, Central Michigan

Perhaps the most intriguing MAC player (or overall player) in the Tropical Bowl, Troy Hairston II, the pride of Birmingham, Michigan, will look to impress pro scouts with a good performance in Orlando.

The MAC co-defensive player of the year in 2020 nearly duplicated his efforts in 2021, finishing with all-MAC honors for the second year in a row after collecting 55 tackles, 17.5 tackles-for-loss, seven QB hits and a forced fumble. It is a truly unbelievable effort for any player, but especially for a walk-on who joined the team in 2018 as an outside linebacker.

Hairston finished his career in Mt. Pleasant with a dominant performance in the Sun Bowl, with 3.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks (with another called back due to penalty.) Over his career, Hairston collected 129 tackles, 34 tackles-for-loss, 16.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, 12 QB hits and a fumble recovery.

Hairston is a potential undrafted free agent option despite his undersized body type (as he is five-foot-eleven, 245 lbs.)

Team American

  • Bryce Nunnelly, WR/KR, Western Michigan

Nunnelly was one-and-done with the Broncos, transferring in as a graduate from FCS-level UT-Chattanooga in the 2021 offseason. Prior to his stay in Kalamazoo, Nunnelly was one of the Mocs’ most productive receivers in recent memory, with 152 receptions and 2,242 receiving yards, good for seventh and third in program history, respectively. Nunnelly was an all-first-team SoCon receiver in his sophomore and junior seasons.

The Cleveland, Tennessee native was primarily a kick and punt return specialist for the Broncos, with 205 yards on 20 combined returns. He was also WR4 for WMU, with 10 receptions for 114 yards.

  • AJ Thomas, LB/DB, Western Michigan

AJ Thomas wore many hats on the WMU defense, rotating between safety, linebacker and cornerback for the Broncos through the course of his career. A four-sport athlete in high school, the six-foot-two, 220 lb. Detroit native finished with 53 tackles, including one tackle-for-loss in 2021, with five pass breakups.

Thomas was an important part of the Broncos rotation of linebackers, which had two all-MAC backers in 2021 and several more in seasons prior. Over his four seasons, Thomas finished with 214 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two interceptions, two recovered fumbles and 16 pass break-ups.

  • Nykeim Johnson, WR, Kent State

Johnson, a graduate transfer from Syracuse via Washington, D.C., spent the 2021 campaign with Kent State, converting 54 receptions for 630 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver in the Golden Flashes’ divisional run. Johnson also added 10 rushes for 82 yards and two touchdowns as well, proving to be an effective weapon for Sean Lewis’ offense.

Johnson was a second-team all-ACC kick returner in 2020 at Syracuse, with 88 receptions for 1,055 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons as a receiver.

  • Christian Albright. LB, Ball State

Albright was a stalwart of the Ball State defense in his tenure in Muncie, with 48 straight starts over four seasons of play from the linebacker position. Albright landed on the all-MAC list twice in his career, with a third-team appearance in 2018 and a second-team appearance in 2020.

Albright shared the linebacking responsibilities with fellow Card Brandon Martin (2020 MAC co-defensive player of the year) for much of his career, and made good for himself, amassing 260 tackles, 33.5 tackles-for-loss, 16.5 sacks, two interceptions, 13 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles and three recoveries over 57 games played in a Cardinals uniform.

In 2021, Albright had 65 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, three passes defensed and a forced fumble.

  • TJ Jackson, OL, Ohio

TJ Jackson, a Virginia Tech graduate transfer, was a rotational interior lineman for the Bobcats in 2021, participating in all 12 games. Prior to Ohio, Jackson picked up 24 games of participation and two starts. The Cumberland, Virginia native stands at six-foot-seven, 375 lbs., making him an intriguing, but raw, project tackle/guard option at the next level.

  • Mike VanHoeven, Eastern Michigan

The six-foot-five, 298 lb. offensive lineman from Paw Paw, Michigan, will look for his next stop in their football journey after six seasons in Ypsilanti by participating in this game. Mike VanHoeven collected 45 starts for the Eagles in 67 possible appearances. Understood to be one of the better pass protecting centers in the MAC, with previous experience as a guard and tackle as well, dating back to high school.