EIU QB didn’t feel pressure playing in footsteps of Saints’ Payton

MOBILE, Ala. — Instead of feeling the pressure of trying to follow the two most-productive quarterbacks in Eastern Illinois University history, Jimmy Garoppolo embraced it.

More than a month after his record-setting career at EIU ended with a loss in the FCS quarterfinals, he still is.

The 6-foot-3, 222-pound Garoppolo, who is playing for the South squad in the Reese’s Senior Bowl this week, said Tuesday he enjoyed following in the footsteps of New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

“Both of their names are all over the school,” Garoppolo said with a smile. “They have posters up and everything, so the comparisons (with them) are going to be there. It was just a blessing for them to establish the tradition, and for me to try to follow them.”

Payton and Romo, who often kid around with each other about who was the better college quarterback, owned most of the school’s passing records — until Garoppolo came along.

Garoppolo shattered Payton’s career records for passing yards (13,156) and completions (1,047) and also topped Romo’s career mark for touchdown passes (118) earlier this season.

“They set a standard, and it’s up to the rest of Eastern quarterbacks that go through there to live up to that standard,” Garoppolo said.

SPEED TRAP: Another player from a smaller school, Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid, had an eye-opening experience Monday during the first practice for Saturday’s game in Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

The 6-2, 305-pound Reid, who is playing for the South squad, had to quickly get used to the size and speed — especially the speed — of the players he was going against.

“It’s fast-paced,” said Reid, a two-time All-American. “It’s faster than what I’m normally used to, but I made my adjustment to it on the first day and it’s been fun since.

“The guys are definitely bigger. Not many guys are 330 pounds that I’ve been going against. They’re bigger, they’re stronger and they force me to get better every day.”

THE IVY LEAGUER: Reid said he gets questions about wanting to be a football player and perhaps play in the NFL when he can do so many other things after going to Princeton.

“They just wonder why someone who can do those things wants to play football,” Reid said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little boy. It’s the only thing I’ve worked for.”

Reid said he hasn’t been kidded by his South teammates about being the smart guy from the Ivy League.

“We’re all in this together. … It’s not like I’m struggling,” he said. “I’m holding my own, and I’m playing and competing so it’s not like I stand out as an Ivy Leaguer. They just don’t recognize my helmet.”

KICKING IT: Punter Cody Mandell, a Lafayette native who played at Acadiana High School, will begin his journey to what he hopes is an NFL job after a solid career that began as a walk-on at Alabama.

Mandell averaged 42.6 yards per punt for his four-year career, which ranks fourth in Crimson Tide history. He averaged 47.1 last season to rank second in school history for kickers with at least 25 punts and led the nation in net punting at 42.43 yards per punt.

But now it’s on to the next opportunity for Mandell, who noted that while there are only 32 such jobs available in the NFL, two of the current punters — the Saints’ Thomas Morstead and Indianapolis Colts’ Pat McAfee — were both drafted after playing in the 2009 Senior Bowl.

“They came here and made the most of their opportunity,” Mandell said. “So that’s what I wanted to do.”

NOT GEOGRAPHICALLY CHALLENGED: Because Senior Bowl officials try to strike a competitive balance for their game and often make changes on the fly leading up to the start of practices, players can wind up on either squad.

Which is why Garopollo and Reid are on the South team, along with Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp and North   DakotaState tackle Billy Turner.

On the other hand, three players from the University of Miami are on the North team, as is Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Justin Ellis.

HALL OMEN?: Former Southern University defensive back Aeneas Williams, who participated in the Senior Bowl in 1991, was inducted into the all-star game’s Hall of Fame last March.

Williams, who went on to play 14 seasons in the NFL after playing in the Senior Bowl, is also a finalist for the third consecutive year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2014 will be elected on Feb. 1, the day before Super Bowl XLVIII.

LATE ADDITION: Louisiana Tech’s IK Enemkpali, a 6-foot-1, 250-pound defensive end, was added to the South roster on Wednesday as an injury replacement for Virginia’s Brent Urban.