ACC School Alumni Set For NFL’s Center Stage

Pro Bowl and Super Bowl to feature a number of familiar faces

GREENSBORO, N.C. ( – The NFL’s elite take to the playing field each of the next two weekends, and the Atlantic Coast Conference is again well-represented.

Fourteen alumni from current league schools expect to play in the 2015 Pro Bowl on Sunday night (8 p.m., ESPN). Nineteen players with ties to current conference schools were actually selected for Sunday night’s game game, placing the ACC second among all conferences in participation. New England’s Darrelle Revis (Pitt) and Seattle’s Kam Chancellor (Virginia Tech) withdrew due to their teams’ participation in the Super Bowl. Two former Georgia Tech receivers – Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas – were scratched due to injuries, as was Philadelphia running back LaSean McCoy (Pitt).

Even with those marquee names unavailable, NFL Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Michael Irvin found plenty of talent sporting ACC school ties as they drafted their respective Pro Bowl teams earlier in the week.

Team Irvin made linebacker Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers, Boston College) the No. 8 overall selection, and tight end Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints, Miami) went No. 12. They will be joined by the No. 20 overall pick in defensive end Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams, North Carolina), as well as quarterback Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons, Boston College), rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams, Pitt) and linebacker Elvin Dumervil (Baltimore Ravens, Louisville).

Carter grabbed defensive end Mario Williams (Buffalo Bills, NC State) as the No. 9 overall pick. Team Carter will also feature tight end Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers, Miami), offensive tackle Duane Brown (Houston Texans, Virginia Tech), defensive end Calais Campbell (Arizona Cardinals, Miami), linebacker Lawrence Timmons (Pittsburgh Steelers, Pitt), cornerback Antonio Cromartie (Arizona Cardinals, Florida State), cornerback Sam Shields (Green Bay Packers, Miami) and return specialist Devin Hester (Atlanta Falcons, Miami).

Then comes Feb. 1 and Super Bowl XLIX, when 10 former standouts from ACC schools figure prominently in the schemes of the defending champion Seahawks and the Patriots.

Former Virginia Tech standout Kam Chancellor’s delivered the knockout blow for the Seahawks in the Divisional Finals, racing 90 yards following an interception for the game-clinching touchdown versus the Carolina Panthers.And with Seattle seemingly facing certain defeat against Green Bay in the NFC Finals, quarterback Russell Wilson again worked the magic that has come to be expected by those who followed him at NC State. The Seahawks improbable comeback from 12 points down in fading minutes featured a Wilson trademark scramble and Hail Mary toss for successful two-point conversion, followed by a 35-yard touchdown strike to Jermaine Kearse in overtime that the Seahawks to a 28-22 and a permanent place in NFL lore.

As the Seahawks go after their second straight Lombardi Trophy, Wilson and Chancellor will be joined by other familiar ex-ACC faces in cornerback Byron Maxwell (Clemson), offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy and kicker Steven Hauschka (NC State) and tight end Cooper Helfet (Duke).

The injured reserve list included linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (Boston College) and defensive end Greg Scruggs (Louisville). Offensive lineman Justin Renfrow (Miami) is a member of the Seahawks’ practice squad.

Seattle is seeking to become just the ninth team in history to win back-to-back Super Bowls. But Wilson said he set his sights on a repeat from day one – if not minute one.

“In terms of last year –  and this may be kind of a buzzkill for most – but I started thinking about [next] year as soon as I started lowering the trophy down (following  the Super Bowl XLVIII win over the Broncos,”  Wilson said. “It was kind of like, ‘OK, now it’s time to start thinking about next year and what we can do.’ That’s just kind of my mindset. Maybe call me crazy, call me insane, I don't know, but that’s just the way I think … How can I get prepared for the next opportunity?”

The opportunity comes against a New England team that seeks its fourth Super Bowl title in 14 seasons, but its first in nine years.  Shutdown cornerback Revis (Pitt) and veteran lineman Vince Wilfork (Miami) are defensive mainstays, and long-snapper Danny Aiken (Virginia) figures prominently on special teams.

Rookie center Bryan Stork (Florida State), who played his way into the starting lineup but missed last Sunday’s AFC Final win over Indianapolis with a knee injury, returned to practice this week and hopes to be a “go” nine days from now in Phoenix. 

Current ACC school connections also abound among the Super Bowl coaching ranks.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll was the defensive coordinator at NC State for three seasons in the early 1980s. While with the Wolfpack, Carroll worked alongside quarterbacks coach Carl Smith, who now holds that same position with the Seahawks.

Seattle’s staff also includes assistant offensive line coach Pat Ruel, a Miami graduate who spent four years as a Hurricanes’ assistant coach following graduation, and Nick Sorensen, who played in the 1999 national championship game at Virginia Tech before playing in the NFL for 10 seasons. Assistant strength and conditioning coach Jamie Yanchar is a Louisville graduate.

New England’ defensive coordinator Matt Patricia spent three years as a Syracuse assistant, and running backs coach Ivan Spears spent a decade coaching the Orange quarterbacks. Special teams coordinator Scott O’Brien held the same same position at Pitt for four seasons (1987-90). 

Patriots offensive line coach DeGuglieimo began his coaching career at Boston College in 1991, and safeties coach Brian Flores is a 2003 BC graduate and former starting linebacker for the Eagles. 

Super Bowl MVPs with ACC Connections
There are five former Super Bowl MVPs who played at a current ACC school:

Year MVP, Teams, Score (Super Bowl)
1974—Larry Csonka (Syracuse), Miami Dolphins over Minnesota Vikings, 24-7 (Super Bowl VIII)
1977—Fred Biletnikoff (Florida State), Oakland Raiders over Minnesota Vikings, 32-14 (Super Bowl XI)
1991—Ottis Anderson (Miami), New York Giants over Buffalo Bills, 20-19 (Super Bowl XXV)
2001—Ray Lewis (Miami), Baltimore Ravens over New York Giants, 34-7 (Super Bowl XXXV)
2003—Dexter Jackson (Florida State), Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Oakland Raiders. 48-21 (Super Bowl XXXVII)