Author Archives: Michael Wunderlich

About Michael Wunderlich

Michael Wunderlich grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla. He earned his undergraduate degree at South Carolina where he covered the Gamecocks athletics and even lifted weights with star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. In Louisiana, Michael has reported on concussions in youth football and their implications on later life. He is interested in the fan obsession with the sport of football and the culture it fosters.

LSU Spring Game: What did we learn?

Spring football means a lot of things to a lot of people. To the fans, especially LSU fans, it means there’s more football, and that’s usually all they need to hear to throw a party.

Zach Mettenberger, 8 and Stephen Rivers, 17, watch the LSU Spring Game from the sidelines.

Zach Mettenberger, 8 and Stephen Rivers, 17, watch the LSU Spring Game from the sidelines.

To the players, it’s an opportunity to make a statement to coaches and their teammates. It’s a time to showcase the work they’ve put in during offseason workouts. To the coaches, it’s a time to evaluate the talent they have on their roster and begin to look ahead to the upcoming regular season.

At the end of every spring football schedule, everyone should know a little bit more about their football team. So the question is, following spring practice, what do we know about the 2013 LSU football team that we didn’t know before?

One of the major issues going in was how would LSU go about replacing the majority of its starting defense from the previous season. LSU’s spring game performance may have quieted some of  those concerns.

To put it simply, LSU’s defense looks fast. Really fast. Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, both tasked with manning the starting defensive tackle positions this upcoming season, both ran down smaller and faster players during the game.

Ferguson seemed to take the concerns about the position to heart. “A lot of people said that we couldn’t do it and that we were a lot thinner of a defensive line since we lost a few people,” Ferguson said. “I had the mindset that I wanted to prove a lot (Saturday). Ferguson and the presumed starters faced a number of LSU’s second-teamers on offense but still turned in an impressive performance.

Eric Reid’s departure to the NFL left a void in the LSU secondary, but rising senior Craig Loston and rising sophomore Corey Thompson looked strong in the spring game. Loston seemed intent on making a statement early on in the game, bulldozing running back Kenny Hilliard for a big hit in the first quarter and eventually intercepting a Brad Kragthorpe pass early in the fourth. Loston is one of the lone returning starters to LSU’s defense from the 2012 season and seemed to be around the ball on every play during the spring game.

Offensively, the spring game marked the  first time fans could get a glimpse of what new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s offense will look like in the fall.

Many were probably wondering what Zach Mettenberger would look like under Cameron’s tutelage and he certainly had his moments during the spring game. Mettenberger, given the freedom to call his own plays, appeared to favor receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry when looking to pass.

It certainly showed on the stat sheet as Beckham caught six passes for 202 yards and two  touchdowns, and Landry tallying six catches for 132 yards. At times though, you could still see a bit of hesitance in Mettenberger’s decision making, and there were a few errant throws for him on the day. These are issues Mettenberger’s worked to improve on since he arrived in Baton Rouge and over the course of the 2012 season, he certainly made strides. It looks like he still has work to do though.

One thing you can’t deny is that the man does have an arm, and he’s not afraid to throw it deep. The Georgia native tested the Purple team’s secondary multiple times, punctuating his efforts with a 79 yard bomb to Beckham in the second quarter. Mettenberger’s development over the summer and heading into the fall under Cameron should be a major factor in LSU’s success in 2013.

Luckily for LSU, if Mettenberger falters at all during the season, it seems like running back Jeremy Hill will be there to stabilize the Tiger offense. Hill was impressive during the Spring Game, amassing over 100 yards on the ground and seemed to cut effortlessly through the Purple team’s defense, never going to the ground on the first hit. He’ll definitely be a player of interest in the fall.

One lesser known name who really seemed to shine in the spring game was Terrence Magee. The rising junior chipped in at running back, caught passes and on one play, sprung freshman  quarterback Anthony Jennings for a scramble resulting in a first down. Magee may not be the most recognized of LSU’s offensive players, but he has the confidence of Les Miles, who said he won’t  be afraid to play Magee in big games this upcoming season.

So what can we expect to see in the fall when LSU resumes practice?

Well, first of all, more from Cam Cameron and the offense. LSU seemed to run their offense out of a limited number of formations, hinting at the fact that Cameron’s offense will be installed and implemented over the course of the summer and into fall practice. Fortunately for LSU’s defense it seems like more of the same. The defense, while lacking some of the big names from previous seasons, appears to be quick, physical, and hungry to prove to concerned individuals that the Tiger’s defense won’t lose a step in 2013.

Even with strong performances from new defensive starters and players like Mettenberger and Hill, LSU will probably be faced with the same questions during the offseason that they’ve had to answer since their disappoint loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl this past season. The Tigers certainly aren’t where they hope to be when they square off Aug. 31 against TCU in the Cowboys Classic to start the 2013 season, but this year’s Spring Game showed that the team is getting there, and they’ve got a chance to make some serious noise this fall if they do.

Saints NFL Draft Preview

The New Orleans Saints will have the 15th pick in the first round of the NFL draft tomorrow night in New York City.

In many ways, the draft marks the beginning of the new regular season in the NFL, when teams replenish their rosters and focus on offseason preparations.

The Saints, buried under the bounty scandal a year ago, will start the 2013 NFL regular season free of the death grip of commissioner Roger Goodell.

So what are they to do?

Picking pretty much smack dab in the middle of the first round, the Saints, like nearly every team in the league, have a myriad of needs they hope to address via the draft.

One of the holes they’ll probably look to fill is on defense – at pretty much any position.

Luckily for the Saints, there appears to be a plethora of talented defensive players in the draft this year.

Double lucky for the Saints, they’ll look to have linebacker Jonathan Vilma for a whole season after he was suspended for a large portion of last year in relation to the bounty scandal.

Curtis Lofton also contributed a strong season last year with more than 100 total tackles from the linebacker spot.

Multiple draftniks have identified Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones as a potential target for the Saints during the first round on Thursday.

The pick would make sense. Jones would provide the Saints with a pass rushing threat the team lacked last year.

Cameron Jordan led the Saints with eight sacks last year and the aging Will Smith chipped in six.

Jones’s ability to get to the quarterback could prove useful for the Saints, should they choose to go that route.

The Saints may also opt to go after a defensive lineman in the first round.

Picking in the middle of the first round, they may not be able to get their hands on Utah behemoth Star Lotulelei or Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, but the Saints may have a shot at bringing LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo.

Mingo may see time at linebacker in the pros, but certainly would give the Saints athleticism and speed off the edge.

Here’s an interesting thought: Let’s say the Saints aren’t able to snag Jones, and Mingo’s been taken as well. What COULD be interesting is that the Saints might opt to fortify their secondary.  This would prove useful in a division that features big armed and capable passers like  Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Josh Freeman.

What if they go after someone like Florida safety Matt Elam?  He’s an active and tenacious player who’s projected to go in the later part of the first round.

The Saints would then have to wait until the third round to pick again.  They would still do well to get a pass rusher, and Sam Montgomery, the OTHER LSU defensive end, might still be available.

Montgomery at one point was projected as a first rounder along with Mingo.  His draft stock plummeted in the eyes of draft analysts in recent weeks after he admitted taking plays “off” at LSU and an underwhelming NFL Combine performance.

Still, there’s no denying Montgomery’s ability and if the Saints have the opportunity to snatch him in the third round, where many draft experts say he’ll go,, they’d be wise to do so.

If this were to happen, the Saints’ first two picks in 2013 would add a young and aggressive secondary player in Elam who can study under Roman Harper, and a first round talent in Montgomery, helping breath life in their derelict pass rush.

Of course, the one certainty about the NFL draft is that there will always be surprise and intrigue when the draft finally arrives.

The Saints may end up taking Jones’s Georgia teammate Alec Ogletree in the first round and South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger in the third round. You just never know.

One thing that can be assumed with relative confidence is that the Saints will look to focus on defense in this draft.

SEC East Spring Preview

 Hope springs eternal with the arrival of spring practice for college football programs across the country. Players have opportunities to replace departed leaders and coaches get their first chance to look at the type of team they’ll be tasked with coaching for the 2013 season. Once again, the SEC figures to boast several impressive teams in 2013.

Let’s take a look at each of the teams in the Eastern division of arguably the toughest conference in all of college football. Each team will feature one key returning player from both the offensive side and defensive side of the ball, as well as an overall outlook for the 2013 season.



Key Offensive Returner: Jeff Driskel. While statistically unspectacular in 2012, Driskel still managed to record wins against Texas A&M on the road, against LSU and South Carolina in his first full season as the Gators’ starter. You can argue the Gators’ defense and power running game was primarily responsible for those wins, and maybe they were, but that was last year. This year, look for Driskel to play a larger roll in the Gator offense and try to erase the memories of a poor showing in the Sugar Bowl.


Key Defensive Returner: With Sharrif Floyd leaving the Gator D-Line for the NFL, look for Dominique Easley to emerge as the next athletic specimen out of Gainesville. Easley has 23 career starts and had five tackles in the Gators’ Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville.


Outlook: The Gators are coming off a royally disappointing end to their 2012 season at the hands of Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals. Florida was humbled in the Sugar Bowl against the Big East underdog and saw the key departures of backup quarterback Jacoby Brisset due to transfer, leading rusher Michael Gillislee to graduation and Sharrif Floyd to the allure of the draft. The Gators head to Miami to face the Hurricanes in their second game of the season and travel to LSU, Missouri and South Carolina as well. Not the easiest of schedules and with an offense looking to gain traction in Jeff Driskel’s second year as a starter, the Gators may very well finish with a 9-3 regular season record.



Key Offensive Returner: It seems like Aaron Murray has been at Georgia forever. The Georgia quarterback enters his final season with the Bulldogs having started the past three seasons for March Richt. Last year Murray threw for 36 touchdowns and came within a few frantic seconds of taking out Alabama in the SEC championship game. Murray’s arguably the best quarterback in the conference this year and as long as he’s running the show in Athens, the Bulldogs are a potent offensive team.


Key Defensive Returner: Rising sophomore Jordan Jenkins registered five sacks in his debut season with the Bulldogs last year. He’ll be counted on to produce even more this year with the loss of All-Everything linebacker Jarvis Jones departing for the NFL.


Outlook: The Bulldogs will be facing a slew of experienced quarterbacks this year, so replacing the pressure Jones consistently brought will go a long way to determining Georgia’s defensive success. The Bulldogs get Clemson in the “other” Death Valley to start the season, so right away they’ll find out what kind of team they have. Tajh Boyd is a serious offensive force, and the Tigers constantly overflow with offensive skill talent. Games against South Carolina, LSU and Florida all figure to pose considerable challenges for Murray and the Dawgs, but luckily for Georgia fans, Murray is as experienced as any SEC starting quarterback could be. In his final year, Murray takes the Dawgs to an 11-1 regular season (they’ll get caught at least once this year) and back to Atlanta.



Key Offensive Returner: Jalen Whitlow threw for 801 yards and ran for another 312 in his debut season for the Wildcats. The rising sophomore is listed as a quarterback/athlete on Kentucky’s roster and his athleticism and versatility is reminiscent of former UK standout Randall Cobb. It is unclear who will start for the Wildcats this year under center, but Whitlow’s skills should find him making a difference somewhere on the field.


Key Defensive Returner: Alvin Dupree is an impressive physical specimen at linebacker, standing at 6-foot-4, 249 pounds. Dupree tallied 91 total tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2012 and looks to be a featured part of UK’s 2013 defensive unit. Dupree is physically gifted and produces results and could become one of the more notable defensive players to come through Lexington in quite a while.


Outlook: Kentucky looks like it will continue to provide the flooring that the rest of the SEC teams walk on in 2013. To add insult to injury, in-state rival Louisville suddenly boasts a top-flight quarterback and a prolific offense. Want to rub it in? Kentucky has to play Alabama this year. They don’t know who they’ll play at quarterback yet and things could get interesting in Mark Stoops’ first season as head coach. The Wildcats have pulled surprise upsets before and should be counted on to mimic Stoops’ fiery personality, but they shouldn’t do any better than 4-8 in 2013.



Key Offensive Returner:

It has to be James Franklin. The Tigers’ starter coming into the 2012 season, Franklin looked to lead an offense that could potentially make waves in their first season against SEC defenses. Unfortunately, Franklin battled health problems last year and at times during games looked like he was only playing at half-speed. He’ll have another crack at the job this year, but Corbin Berkstresser will give him a run for the job this spring and on into fall after starting a handful of games for the Tigers in Franklin’s absences last year.


Key Offensive Returner: OK, so this isn’t a defensive player, but let’s just say Missouri needs to fill the hole left by Sheldon Richardson on the defensive line, among other positions. Otherwise, the return of sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham overshadows what’s happening on the Missouri defense. One of the most talented players ever to sign with Missouri, Green-Beckham largely underperformed in his first year for the Tigers, registering only one start and catching 28 passes for 395 yards and five touchdowns. Not bad for your average freshman, but DGB was supposed to be the next A.J. Green. He’ll have to play a larger part for Mizzou this year if the Tigers want to make any noise in the SEC.


Outlook: The Tigers got a lesson in “Grown Man Football” this year in the SEC. At times, Missouri looked overmatched physically. It’s always been known that SEC teams succeed by dominating the line of scrimmage and Missouri has to continue to adjust. The Tigers sport a new full-time starter at quarterback this year, and they should check in at about 6-6 this season, but mostly thanks to a soft non-conference schedule.


South Carolina

Key Offensive Returner: Anyone could list Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson, the two talented quarterbacks in Columbia, as the keys to the Gamecocks’ upcoming season. But a greater question remains how does Carolina go about replacing Marcus Lattimore? Interestingly enough, it looks like the answer is, “With the sibling of a sworn enemy.” Mike Davis, brother of former Clemson workhorse James Davis, filled in admirably when Lattimore went down last year with a gruesome knee injury. This year, he’s looking to start in his sophomore season and give Steve Spurrier a counter to whoever’s slinging the ball for the Head Ball Coach.


Key Defensive Returner: Everybody’s favorite Julius Peppers comparison, Jadeveon Clowney. The man is an absolute freak of nature coming off the edge for the Gamecocks and at times seemed to channel his inner NBA player and take over games last year. The only challenges this year for Clowney? Stay healthy and embrace consistency. There were times last year where the man-child disappeared on the field. Better effort over a longer period of time for Clowney could result in a 2013 season that is rarely ever seen.


Outlook: South Carolina is coming off back-to-back 11 win seasons, returns arguably the nation’s best player in Jadeveon Clowney and has two experienced quarterbacks for Steve Spurrier to experiment with. The Gamecocks get Georgia early in the season to find out just how good they are, but what they may find is that they Lattimore more than they realize. Expect a 10-2 finish.



Key Offensive Returner: Replacing Tyler Bray won’t be an easy task, but the Volunteers return running back Marlin Lane, who ran for over 600 yards in 2012. It’s always nice for a new quarterback to have a reliable guy in the backfield to hand off to, and Lane provides just that.


Key Defensive Returner: Curt Maggitt is returning from an ACL injury suffered in 2012, but the linebacker figures to see a lot of time on the field for the Volunteers this fall. Maggitt defends the pass and run equally well and will be a valuable member of a defensive unit tasked with stopping the likes of Aaron Murray, Marcus Mariotta and AJ McCarron.


Outlook: The Vols face an uphill battle this year in their journey to return to prominence under first-year coach Butch Jones. They’ll face Oregon in Autzen Stadium this September and travel to play Florida and Alabama as well. After struggling to win with a solid quarterback in Bray last season, it doesn’t seem that the Vols will experience any greater improvement this year, and look to go 7-5. this season. But don’t be surprised if they ruin someone’s Saturday at least once this year.



Key Offensive Returner: Chris Boyd quietly put together a remarkable season in 2012. The 6-4 receiver posted over 700 yards receiving and scored five touchdowns. He will be looked to by whoever replaces Jordan Rodgers at quarterback for the Commodores this year. In the world of little known facts, Boyd is also an Eagle Scout.


Key Defensive Returner: Chase Garnham lead the Commodores with 12.5 tackles for loss this past year, and paced the team with seven sacks. The linebacker will look to anchor the defense once again for Vanderbilt and lead a surprising team into 2013. Garnham’s Twitter account is also very enjoyable.


Outlook: The Commodores always play better than their record indicates and last year, they finally started seeing success on the scoreboard. After a nine-win season that saw the team post wins against Auburn and Tennessee and snag a bowl victory over North Carolina State, the Commodores enter this season with a rare element: Expectations. Coach James Franklin is getting results in Nashville, but the loss of Jordan Rodgers at quarterback may hurt. The Commodores will go 7-5 this year and break a contender’s heart with their feisty play.
Feature Photo By Charles Atkeison

Les Miles rumor shows power of social media

As if we didn’t already know it, social media can be scary.

Just ask former Florida Gators safety Will Hill

This past weekend, it was Les Miles’ turn to be involved in the uncharted and often volatile waters of the social media universe. A rumor started on Saturday when Western Kentucky University broadcasting major Sam McGaw tweeted that Les Miles was rumored to be stepping down from his position on Monday due to having an affair.

By Sunday night, the rumor had hit LSU’s campus. I actually heard about it from a teammate on my intramural basketball team.

The rumor was apparently taken from an Alabama Crimson Tide message board and caught fire across the Twitterverse. And why not? Everyone loves a juicy story, especially in the football offseason.

The thing is, the claims were unsubstantiated from the start. McGaw repeatedly said it was “just a rumor” and that nothing had been confirmed yet. His number of followers quickly swelled to over 30,000 almost overnight.

Fortunately for LSU fans, the rumor was quickly shot down.

It just goes to show what kind of power social media has given the ordinary citizen. This isn’t to say that legitimate journalists are all above reproach; you could probably just do a Google search and find a plethora of misreporting done by individuals who consider themselves as ‘professionals.’

But as we all know, the mob now has a large voice that can directly connect with practically anyone. In college football it seems, that mob can sometimes be unruly.

It used to be, you had to write letters to your favorite athletes and hope they wrote back. Now you can just tweet them and they might follow you back.

Now, a broadcast student at Western Kentucky can make the entire state of Louisiana nervous and the entire state of Alabama giddy by posting an unfounded rumor on his own Twitter account.

Essentially, ANYONE can make an unsubstantiated claim and run with it.

And some of them, can catch fire.

Fortunately, Miles isn’t going anywhere and this all happened to be nothing more than a rumor. But it just goes to show, that if you make a mistake in the sporting world, or in any world really, it has the chance to be amplified to deafening levels through social media.

Paris commits to LSU

LSU added an important recruit from Texas on Monday night with the commitment of Mansfield Timberview, Texas defensive back Ed Paris.

Paris, originally from New Orleans, chose LSU over Texas and Florida among dozens of other offers.

The rangy cornerback stands at six-foot-one and 190 pounds and is a noteworthy early addition for LSU’s 2014 recruiting class.

Recruiting services like Rivals, 24/7 Sports and ESPN all hold Paris in high regard, with 24/7 listing Paris as the top overall recruit in the state of Texas and the 9th overall prospect nationally.

Paris will play his senior season for Mansfield Timberview High School in Arlington, Texas this coming fall and plans to enroll in college early.


National Signing Day shows LSU fans know no offseason


Ed Bosworth

Ed Bosworth is an LSU football lifer. The kind of person who beams with pride when he talks about his family ties to the school.

“I have a wife and three kids. I paid for all of them to go to LSU,” Bosworth said.

Bosworth’s the kind of guy who relishes a day like National Signing Day, when college football programs all over the country rope in fresh young talent with the hopes of future success.

For Bosworth and LSU though, things happen a bit differently on Signing Day than they probably do elsewhere.

For the 18th year in a row, the Tiger Gridiron Club Bayou Bash Recruiting Party took place to celebrate National Signing Day at LSU.

Originating from more humble beginnings, the Bash has now grown into a full-fledged super tailgate, complete with all the classic Louisiana cuisine and culture one might find just outside Death Valley on a Saturday in October.

“Each year it gets bigger and bigger,” Bosworth said.

Big is only the beginning for this kind of football party.

Fans clad in purple and gold scour the warehouse-sized room the event is held in at the Baton Rouge River Center.

Screens placed in prominent viewing positions display the faces and the names of future Tigers that have made their pledges to play for Les Miles.

Sweet tea and alcohol flow as freely as they do during the actual football season, jambalaya is generously served and there’s even a place to get a haircut.

If there’s no football to be played for months at a time, this may just be the next best thing.

National Signing Day took place on a Wednesday this year, a day normally designated for things like jobs.

For some LSU fans, that only means there’s another opportunity to spend a vacation day.

Kevin Robinson made no secret to his coworkers as to where he’d be on National Signing Day.

“Yeah, I told them,” Robinson said. Upon closer inspection, most of Robinson’s vacation time is centered around LSU.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I have vacation scheduled for later in the year and one of them is the LSU-TCU game in Dallas and the other one is LSU’s playing in a basketball tournament down in Orlando, the Old Spice tournament for Thanksgiving, so we’re taking vacation and going there. So it looks like all my vacation right now is for LSU.”

Robinson was honest with his employers about his Signing Day whereabouts, but wouldn’t be surprised if there were others in the crowd who had made up creative stories to get out of work for the day.

“I hadn’t heard any but I’m sure there are some,” he said.

Richard Smith had heard from friends about the Bayou Bash and finally made his way to the River Center this year to experience the event for himself for the first time.

“I’d heard about it for years,” Smith said. “The atmosphere is really unique and it’s fun watching all the LSU fans and all their colors and everything get together and the anxiousness of what they think next year’s going to be.”

The Southeastern Conference is notorious for possessing a different breed of football fan apart from the rest of the nation, but Smith believes passion for LSU football runs even deeper.

‘LSU fans, it’s in their blood,” Smith said. “It’s inbred, it’s a big part of their life.”

Smith looks at an event like the Bayou Bash and feels like the large turnout and strong showing of support for LSU football reflects on the state’s passion for football.

“There’s a lot of people here that just miss it, this is what they live for, football season,” Smith said.

Since there is no draft like in the NFL or free agency period where football news still can be found, Smith sees a bit of finality in the Signing Day festivities.

“This is kind of like the last bazaar until August when they (LSU) play again,” he said.

Smith and other fans like Robinson and Bosworth enjoy the party atmosphere but the players signing on the dotted line still remains the main event.

“Just seeing the recruits and who’s coming in,” Robinson said. “I’m enjoying hanging out with other LSU fans and checking out the recruits.”

Over the course of the day, LSU managed to pull in a top-10 recruiting class to the delight of partygoers.

A few miles down the road, away from the blaring music and plentiful beer, the face of the LSU football program shared his own satisfaction with the school’s Signing Day success.

“I think there are great players and potentially great players in this list,” LSU Coach Les Miles said in regards to the commits signed on with LSU.

To build a strong football team, every player must contribute and every coach must work to maximize that player’s talent.

To build a strong program, one where top-level players flock to on a yearly basis, every individual must contribute; player, coach and staff.

Not to be forgotten is the largest group of all: the fans. Without its legendary and revered fanbase, LSU might not be the same program.

It is the fans like Bosworth, a Tiger for life, who help give LSU the aura of a football titan because it is the voice of the fans like Bosworth, who are heard 92,000 strong on Saturday nights in Death Valley.

On National Signing Day at the Bayou Bash, those fans are considerably less vocal, but as supportive and enthusiastic for their football program as ever.

You have to pay to get in the door, but Bosworth sees the big picture, knowing that National Signing Day is just the beginning, and that showing support at events like these build the towering structure that is LSU football.

“It’s something, I do it because I want to do it, and I think something good is coming out of it,” Bosworth said.

It’s a special kind of good. A loyal good. It’s the kind of good that helps dazzle the eyes of the 18-year-old defensive lineman who yearns to play at a special kind of place. It’s the kind of good that makes a coach known as “The Mad Hatter” smile in satisfaction as he reels off name after name that have pledged to play for him and before the Tiger faithful.

In time, fans like Bosworth, Robinson and Smith will cheer for those names and remember when they first met them, on National Signing Day.

Photo by: Amy Reynolds

Kaepernick: Remember the name


Photo by: Amy Reynolds

Kaepernick at Super Bowl Media Day.

Ray Lewis raised his second Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night and Joe Flacco took home the MVP after his Ravens clinched their second Super Bowl title in franchise history. The glitter rained down from the Superdome rafters and purple and black instantly became the colors of the evening in New Orleans.

With this Super Bowl win, people will probably say Joe Flacco has finally joined the likes of the Manning brothers, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees as an elite NFL quarterback. With good reason, too. Flacco now has a Super Bowl ring, has one of the most impressive playoff records of any quarterback in league history and is only going to improve.

But this game also introduced the world to one of the most startling athletes to emerge this season: Colin Kaepernick. You shouldn’t be surprised by reading his name that he’s a big deal. He is. His play during the regular season and post-season showed that this tall and athletic quarterback out of Nevada already told us that he was someone to pay attention to. But his play on the biggest stage in sports, against a defense filled with legendary names like Ray Lewis, like Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, only solidified one thing: Colin Kaepernick is going to be a force in this league for a long, long time.

When you look at Kaepernick, it’s not hard to think about the more hyped rookie passer for the Washington Redskins, Robert Griffin III. Both are long, wiry athletes with long strides that cover incredible amounts of turf as they gallop. Both possess strong, accurate arms, with Kaepernick already wowing onlookers for the heat on his passes. Both are poised beyond their years, leading their teams to the playoffs in their first seasons as starters in the NFL.

What’s the most impressive thing about Kaepernick? He doesn’t get overwhelmed. His team was down BIG to the Ravens in the BIGGEST game of his life. In addition, he’d already thrown an interception, something that would understandably rattle someone else. Not Kaepernick.

He kept calm and rallied his team back to coming within an overthrown ball of taking the lead late in the game. If you thought Colin Kaepernick was just a guy running a trick offense in the Pistol, think again. This guy made the tough throws, made the right decisions and almost pulled off an incredible comeback. He beat a Super Bowl champ in Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs, took out a formidable Atlanta Falcons team on the road and didn’t back down against the mighty Lewis-lead Ravens defense in New Orleans.

Some players, you throw them into the starting role and you hear coaches say, “We’ll see how it goes. He’s got to learn and develop, we’re going to grow with him.” Every time you hear that, you get the feeling that those learning and growth periods will involve more pain than pleasure. Think of Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith. Both guys came in highly regarded in the draft and essentially took baby steps through their first few years. Both have achieved a relative degree of success in the league, despite their current situations. But then you have guys like Rodgers, Tom Brady, if you want to go back a few years, Dan Marino, who when you throw them into the starting role, they “get it.” There’s no training wheels, it’s time to go. Kaepernick is that kind of guy, in my opinion. He’s a franchise quarterback. He’s an All-Pro in the making.

In terms of winning and losing, no, this wasn’t Kaepernick’s finest hour, but I’ll tell you, the guy couldn’t have picked a better way to introduce himself to a league this season.

It’s fitting, then. In Ray Lewis, one star fades out under the confetti, while another in Kaepernick emerges in the lonely locker room where the losers quietly wash off their season. Some of Kaepernick’s teammates have played their final game with him, but make no doubt: This is only the beginning for Colin Kaepernick. There is a remarkable career ahead for San Francisco’s signal caller.

To get to the Super Bowl, you have to go through The Muck


Pernell McPhee, Baltimore Ravens defensive end

NEW ORLEANS – When Pernell McPhee steps on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field this Sunday, he’ll do so with teammates that he’s battled with all through the regular season and playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Ray Rice all call McPhee a teammate. They’ve shared the practice fields, the locker rooms, the Sunday showdowns and Monday training rooms for a chance to get to this moment, where a world championship is on the line.

But there are several of McPhee’s Baltimore teammates that share a bond that runs even deeper. McPhee, along with Ravens teammates Deonte Thompson, Damien Berry and Anquan Boldin share a bond so deep, you have to get down to The Muck.

McPhee hails from a small Florida town on the west end of Palm Beach County called Pahokee. Buried deep within the sugar cane fields and pressed up against the banks of Lake Okeechobee, Pahokee’s primary export besides the sugar cane is football.

McPhee’s Pahokee High School Blue Devils have long been a football powerhouse, producing six state titles since 1989.

The town numbers a little under 6,000, but consistently produces football players like McPhee seemingly every year.

Players coming from Pahokee all seem to play with a ragged and violent nature, unafraid of any opponent, born for the game.

“We’re rough, we’re rough, man,” McPhee said. “We come out of the womb like that.”

After starring for the Blue Devils in the late 2000s and then at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College and Mississippi State, McPhee finds himself in New Orleans with the opportunity to win a Super Bowl title.

“It feels great. I know we’re going to put on for our city, man. We’re going to put on for the whole Palm Beach County, the whole Muck City, it’s a blessing,” McPhee said.

Muck City. You hear the name thrown around a lot when talking about Pahokee and neighboring Belle Glade, just down the road.

The two communities are commonly referred to as Muck City in recognition of the muck found in the sugar cane fields that separate the area from the rest of the coastal parts of Palm Beach County.

Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin is one of Muck City’s most famous ambassadors.

After winning Florida’s Mr. Football as a quarterback for Pahokee in 1998, Boldin went on to play wide receiver for the Florida State Seminoles, eventually drafted in the second round by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in 2003.

This is Boldin’s second Super Bowl, having lost as a Cardinal in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As an older player with Super Bowl experience, Boldin has taken to advising younger players how to deal with game preparation and the opportunity to play on the biggest stage.

“My advice to them is to enjoy the moment, but realize that you have a game to play Sunday,” Boldin said. “You don’t want to get too involved in all the hoopla going on around you, around the game because come Sunday at 6:30 you will be playing for a Super Bowl.”

Boldin is the oldest of the Ravens’ “Muck Boys” and still maintains an affinity for the area where he grew up.

“Although it’s a poverty stricken area, you have great people there. That area has

produced a lot of great football talent,” Boldin said.

Boldin has a second chance to earn his Super Bowl ring and the opportunity isn’t lost on him.

“For me it’s a blessing to be here again,” Boldin said. “Some guys never make it to the Super Bowl once. Definitely grateful.”

Ravens’ rookie receiver Deonte Thompson also calls Muck City his hometown. But unlike McPhee and Boldin, Thompson suited up for Pahokee’s archrival, the legendary Glades Central Raiders.

Glades Central High School, located 13 miles south of Pahokee, boasts one of the most powerful high school football programs in the nation.

Players like Fred Taylor, Louis Oliver, and James Jackson all once took the field for the Raiders and made names for themselves in college and the NFL.

Santonio Holmes, MVP of Super Bowl XLIII with the Steelers, also played for Glades Central.

Thompson feels a sense of familiarity as he looks at his Glades’ teammates in New Orleans.

“It’s just like we’re at home, man,” Thompson said.

Just like being back in The Muck, surrounded by Boldin, McPhee and former Raider teammate Damien Berry, a backup running back for the Ravens.

If Thompson were to look across the field to the other sideline during the game on Sunday, he’d find the gaze of another face once deep in The Muck.

Ray McDonald also played for Glades Central and at Florida, just like Thompson.

McDonald is five years older than Thompson and an established veteran defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers.

Thompson looks around the Superdome and is at a loss for words to describe the difference compared to The Muck.

“It’s crazy. Just crazy,” Thompson said.

Even though Thompson and McPhee spent their high school years as mortal enemies, meeting every year at the end of the season in the Pahokee-Glades Central clash appropriately titled, “The Muck Bowl,” he shares McPhee’s sentiments on the type of player that comes out of the cane fields.

“It just says that we got a lot of great athletes, man. We’re just producing. They’re

coming out every year, it’s just awesome,” Thompson said.

While Thompson has only caught five receptions for 51 yards this season and may not play as much, McPhee and Boldin both expect to see heavy action in the biggest game of their lives.

For McPhee, there is only the game right now. New Orleans and all of its charm and character can wait until after he and his Muck Boys help the Ravens fight for a Super Bowl.

“The exciting part is going to be Sunday for me,” McPhee said. “I’m going to experience everything after we win.”

Especially the experience of being one of the players to bring another Super Bowl trophy back to Muck City.