More than two-dozen Big Sky Conference players will have a chance to chase their NFL dreams with the closing of NFL Draft weekend on Saturday. A handful more hopefuls still await hearing if football will be a part of their future.
Twenty-six Big Sky players received good news this weekend, including four who were drafted to NFL teams. Southern Utah continued its historic year. Last fall, the Thunderbirds won their first ever Big Sky Conference championship. On Saturday, the first two Big Sky players drafted came from Southern Utah.
Miles Killebrew, a first-team All-Big Sky selection as a senior, was the first Big Sky player drafted. He went in the fourth round to the Detroit Lions. The safety was the 111th pick overall. In the fifth round, SUU cornerback LeShaun Sims was drafted by the Tennessee Titans. The first-team All-Big Sky selection was the 157th overall pick.
“It’s very exciting,” Southern Utah head coach DeMario Warren, SUU’s defensive coordinator the last two seasons and an assistant for the last eight, told Ryan Miller of the Spectrum Daily News. “Just to see those guys be able to fulfill those dreams that they have had for a long time. It’s an exciting day for SUU as a program, but most importantly for those guys who fulfilled those life long dreams of being in the NFL.”
Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes, the FCS National Defensive Player of the Year, and Montana State tight end Beau Sandland, a first-team All-America in 2015, were the other two Big Sky players who heard their names called. Holmes went in the sixth round, 181st overall, to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sandland was the second to last selection, going 252nd overall to the Carolina Panthers.
“It’s surreal. I don’t really know if it has sunken in,” Sandland told Rhiannon Potkey of the Venture County Star. “My phone has been blowing up and my head is kind of swimming right now. I haven’t really had a chance to take a breath and sit down to process it. It’s amazing. Not many people can say they were drafted in the NFL.”
Sixteen other former Big Sky players signed undrafted free agent contracts on Saturday. Five more received non-contract camp invitations.
Among those who signed undrafted free agent contracts, Southern Utah defensive end James Cowser and Montana State offensive tackle John Weidenaar were the biggest surprises. Cowser, a 6-foot-3, 253-pounder, piled up 43 sacks and 80 tackles for loss during his stellar career at Southern Utah, setting the FCS career record for each statistic. Weidenaar, a 6-foot-8, 305-pounder, earned All-America honors as a senior after breaking Montana State’s school record with 49 consecutive starts.
Other free agent signees included Montana wide receiver Jamaal Jones signing with the San Diego Chargers; Portland State safety Patrick Onwuasor signing with the Baltimore Ravens; Eastern Washington left tackle Clay DeBord signing with the Arziona Cardinals; North Dakota linebacker Will Ratelle signing with the Atlanta Falcons; and Idaho State defensive tackle Tyler Kuder signing with the Green Bay Packers. All were first-team All-Big Sky selections as seniors.
Montana linebacker/safety Herbert Gamboa earned a rookie mini-camp invitation with the Kansas City Chiefs. UM wide receiver Ben Roberts received a similar offer from the Tennessee Titans.
Montana State defensive tackle Taylor Sheridan, a two-time second-team All-Big Sky selection, hoped to hear his name called or have his phone ring. As of Monday, he had not been contacted by an NFL team. Sacramento State linebacker Darnell Sankey, the conference’s leading tackler each of the last two seasons, did not sign either.
LIST OF BIG SKY PLAYERS HEADED TO THE NFL
Southern Utah — S Miles Killebrew 4th round, 111th to the Detroit Lions; CB LeShaun Sims 5th round, 157th to the Tennessee Titans.
Montana – DE Tyrone Holmes, 6th round, 181st to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Montana State – TE Beau Sandland, 7th round, 252nd to the Carolina Panthers
FREE AGENT Signees
Montana – WR Jamaal Jones, San Diego Chargers
Montana State – OT John Weidenaar, Cincinnati Bengals
Southern Utah – DE James Cowser, Oakland Raiders; TE Anthony Norris, Denver Broncos; S Tevin Carter, Washington Redskins; P Brock Miller (2014), Indianapolis Colts.
Portland State – LB Sadat Sulleyman, Denver Broncos; S Patrick Onwuasor, Baltimore Ravens; LS Kameron Canaday, Arizona Cardinals
Eastern Washington – OL Clay Debord, Arizona Cardinals; OL Aaron Neary, Denver Broncos.
North Dakota – LB Will Ratelle, Atlanta Falcons.
Idaho State – DL Tyler Kuder, Green Bay Packers.
Sacramento State – OL Lars Hanson, Denver Broncos.
Weber State – CB Devonte Johnson, Atlanta Falcons.
Cal Poly – QB/WR Chris Brown, Dallas Cowboys.
CAMP INVITES (5)
Montana – LB/S Herbert Gamboa, Kansas City Chiefs; WR Ben Roberts, Tennessee Titans.
Portland State – RB David Jones, Washington Redskins, CB Aaron Sibley, Atlanta Falcons
Northern Arizona – TE RJ Rickert, Chicago Bears.
Southern Utah – QB Ammon Olsen, Indianapolis Colts.