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Four MAC players invited to 2023 East-West Shrine Game

A new addition shakes up the MAC membership at the latest edition of the renovated East-West Shrine Bowl.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 03 East-West Shrine Bowl Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

America’s oldest college football all-star game is ready to take the stage once again, as the recently-renovated East-West Shrine Bowl will start activities in Las Vegas, Nevada, later this week in anticipation of the 98th edition of the event.

The event moved from St. Petersburg, Florida to Las Vegas last season, and also moved from a weekend afternoon kick into weeknight primetime hours, placing it in a very unique position alongside the Senior Bowl. This has given the game an influx of talent which they may not have otherwise gotten in the past, and this year’s roster looks as rich as ever.

The coaching set-up has changed as well, with the Shrine Game now taking the old Senior Bowl approach and nabbing two NFL coaching staffs to run both teams.

This year, the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots will be in charge of the East and West teams, respectively. Atlanta special teams coordinator Marquise Williams will be the East head coach, while New England receivers and return specialist coach Troy Brown will be the West head coach.

Up until last week, only three MAC players were expected to participate in the Shrine Bowl, but a last-minute call-up brought it up to four players. We get right into the profiles below:

East Roster

  • Joel Wilson, tight end, Central Michigan
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 24 Central Michigan at Penn State Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wilson was one of the Mid-American Conference’s top tight ends when on the field, with the former high school quarterback finishing his career with 82 receptions for 874 yards and 12 touchdowns in 34 games played for the Maroon and Gold.

The Petoskey, Michigan native was formerly a backup to both Tony Poljan and Bernhard Raimann in 2018 and 2019 before assuming the starting role in the 2020 COVID season. Wilson was the lone tight end in the offense to record a reception that season, finishing with five catches for 50 yards, and was primarily used as a blocker.

He emerged as a dual-threat in 2021, finishing fourth on the team with 31 receptions for 367 yards and six touchdowns. 2022 saw Wilson become a vital part of an offense in transition, ending the season as CMU’s leader in receiving touchdowns (six) and finishing second in receptions (44) and yards (445).

Wilson was rewarded for his efforts this past season with a third-team all-MAC nod. Wilson, who stands at six-foot-four, 250 lbs., is a late addition to the Shrine Bowl roster, having previously committed to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

  • Jose Ramirez, EDGE, Eastern Michigan
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Eastern Michigan at Kent State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ramirez was a three-year starter for EMU after transferring in from Riverside City [CA] CC, playing in every game he was eligible from the 2020 COVID season onwards. The Lake Alfred, Florida native pulled in 156 tackles, 34 tackles-for-loss, 20.5 sacks, seven passes defensed, six forced fumbles and a fumble recovery over 32 career appearances for EMU.

His first full season as a starter in 2021 resulted in a third-team all-MAC nod, with 63 stops, 12 tackles-for-loss, six sacks and three fumbles. Ramirez would burst onto the national scene in 2022, claiming MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors and placement on three All-American teams, including the Associated Press (third-team), Sporting News (second-team) and Walter Camp (second-team) lists.

Ramirez, who will be scouted as an EDGE rusher at six-foot-three, 250 lbs., had similar tackle numbers to his 2021 season (66 in 2022 as opposed to 63), but finished with higher solo tackle rates while becoming more efficient in the backfield, collecting 19.5 tackles-for-loss and 12 sacks.

West Roster

  • Desjuan Johnson, interior defensive lineman, Toledo
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 24 Toledo at San Diego State Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Desjuan Johnson was one of the “Dynamic DJ’s” in the Toledo front seven (alongside EDGE prospect Dyontae Johnson, who recently competed in the Hula Bowl), becoming a foundational piece for one of the most dominant defenses in the MAC over his five seasons of service.

Johnson was a contributor in all five seasons, with nine appearances in his true freshman campaign, playing in every contest he was eligible for from 2019-2022, for a total of 54 games (33 starts.)

Johnson was named to three-straight all-MAC postseason squads in his three seasons as a starter, picking up second-team honors in 2020 and 2021, and first-team roster in 2022. His redshirt senior season was a career-best performance, picking up 65 tackles, 16.5 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks and an interception from the defensive tackle position.

A rangy, quick-twitch down lineman whose six-foot-three, 275 lb. frame shows potential versatility, Johnson should catch the attention of more than a few NFL scouts.

  • Nic Jones, cornerback, Ball State
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Western Illinois at Ball State Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nic Jones, a native of Detroit, Michigan, had a late rise to the college all-star circuit, with his 2022 campaign earning him an invitation to the Shrine Bowl.

Jones became a thorn in the side of opponents in 2022 after coming off a season-ending injury in 2021, defending 14 passes (third-best in the MAC) and bringing in two interceptions for the Cardinals from the cornerback position. He was also a sure tackler, with 11 of his 17 total stops being solo affairs. Those efforts earned him a second-team all-MAC selection this postseason, his first such honor.

Jones is also excellent on special teams, notching two kick blocks over his career, including one this past season.

Over 37 games in four seasons, Jones had 64 tackles (including one for a loss), three interceptions, 22 passes defensed, and two kick blocks.

The East-West Shrine Bowl game is set to kick off from Allegiant Field in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Thursday, February 2nd, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, with television coverage provided by the NFL Network.