Undrafted by the NFL, these free agents tasted plenty of pro success
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Seven rounds of this year’s NFL Draft passed without James Robinson hearing his name called. Thus, the star Illinois State running back signed as an undrafted free agent with Jacksonville. Teammate Luther Kirk and Western Illinois’ LaCale London also went the free agent route.
While the trio and FCS fans may have been disappointed, they can take heart in the history of success by undrafted players who have tasted professional success.
After perusing http://pro-football-reference.com Prairie State Pigskin presents this capsule of players from the four Illinois FCS programs that have tasted the most NFL success. Each school is represented by its top performers in terms of pro games played.
Jim Hart, quarterback
After setting several SIU records that stood for nearly two decades, Hart signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1966. The Evanston native spent 19 years in the NFL, all but one with St. Louis. Hart played in 201 games, 180 of which he started, and threw for 34,665 yards and 209 touchdowns. He blossomed under head coach Don Coryell, appearing in four Pro Bowls and three playoff games. He is credited with 23 game-winning drives and 20 comebacks.
Bart Scott, linebacker
Given a second chance by new SIU head coach Jerry Kill after being dismissed by Jan Quarless, the Detroit native thrived in Carbondale. He eventually played 11 years in the NFL, first with the Baltimore Ravens and then with the New York Jets. Scott played in 172 games, making 118 starts. A one-time Pro Bowler, Scott recorded 747 tackles, 75 for loss. He had 25 sacks, nine fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Scott played in 11 playoff games.
Marion Rushing, linebacker
The Pickneyville native defines the term all-around athlete at SIU. Rushing, who passed away in 2013, played four sports for the Salukis from 1954 to ’57 (football, basketball, track and wrestling), earning a school-record 13 letters. After first playing with the Chicago Cardinals in 1959, Rushing had his best success when the franchise moved to St. Louis a year later. He enjoyed an eight-year NFL career; he also played for Atlanta and Houston. In all, Rushing appeared in 105 games, 63 of which were starts. He recovered nine fumbles and intercepted four passes.
Sam Silas, defensive tackle
The Homeland, Fla. native was actually drafted by the American Football League in 1963, but choose to sign with St. Louis of the NFL. He played in 100 games, mostly with the Cardinals. Silas earned Pro Bowl honors in 1965. He finished his career with the New York Giants and San Francisco. Silas made 59 NFL starts.
Aaron Stecker, running back and return specialist
Born in Green Bay, Stecker made his name playing professionally for teams in the South. Stecker played 10 seasons, appearing in 129 games with 16 starts. He played with Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Atlanta. Stecker returned one kickoff for a TD in his career. He played in six playoff games and won a Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers.
Booker Edgerson, defensive back
The Baxter, Ark. native reunited with former WIU coach Lou Saban in Buffalo in 1962. Edgerson wound up playing eight years with the Bills before finishing his last season in Denver. Edgerson played in three AFL Championships, including winning back-to-back titles in 1964 and ’65. Edgerson played 106 games, starting 27 times. He recorded 23 career interceptions and returned two for touchdowns in 1968.
Rich Seubert, offensive lineman
A Rozeellville, Wisc. native, Seubert played nine seasons with the New York Giants. The 6-foot-3, 310-pounder played 104 games (88 starts), mostly at left guard. Seubert appeared in eight playoff games and won a Super Bowl when his Giants ruined New England’s bid for a perfect season in 2008.
Larry Garron, running back
Like Edgerson, Garron starred in the AFL. The Marks, Miss. native appeared in 99 games for the Boston Patriots. A three-time Pro Bowler, Garron averaged 3.9 yard per carry and 13.5 yards per reception in his career. Garron scored 40 touchdowns, 26 of which came on catches. He averaged 25.8 yards on kickoffs and returned two for touchdowns.
Jeff Gossett, punter
Gossett grew up in Charleston where his parents both worked at EIU. After giving up on a minor league baseball career, Gossett spent his first two NFL seasons in Kansas City. He spent three of the next four years with the Cleveland Browns (interrupted by a 1984 stint with the Chicago Blitz of the USFL). He split time in 1987 between Cleveland and Houston before making a permanent home with the Raiders from 1988-96. Gossett punted in 212 games and saw action in 10 playoff contests. A one-time Pro Bowler, Gossett posted a 41.3 yard average for his career.
Tony Romo, quarterback
Most likely the most well-known of the Illinois FCS undrafted free agents, Romo waited three seasons before becoming the starting QB in Dallas. The winner of the 2002 Walter Payton Award as the top I-AA player played in 156 NFL games (127 starts). Romo appeared in six playoff games and four Pro Bowls. His 34,183 passing yards places him 32nd on the NFL leader board, four slots behind Hart. Romo’s 248 TD passes puts him at No. 23 on the career list; Hart is 39th. Romo is credited with 24 comebacks and 29 game-winning drives.
John Jurkovic, defensive lineman
Born in Germany, Jurkovic prepped at Thornton Fractional High School prior to coming to Eastern. After spending time on the Miami practice squad, Jurkovic played five seasons in Green Bay. He followed that with three seasons in Jacksonville before finishing his career in Cleveland. Playing both nose tackle and defensive tackle, Jurkovic appeared in 114 NFL games. He started 95 times. Jurkovic recorded 245 tackles, nine sacks, three tackles-for-loss, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Mark Rodenhauser, center
The Elmhurst native played 168 games in the NFL for seven teams. His three pro starts came with Chicago Bears in the strike season of 1987. Rodenhauser proved to be remarkably durable, appearing in all 16 games eight times. He ended his career with Seattle in 1999 never having made the playoffs.
Aveion Cason, running back and kick returner
Born in St. Petersburg, Fla., Cason saw action in 56 NFL games. His nine-year career was mostly divided between Detroit and St. Louis. Cason started five games; he saw playing time mainly as a specialty running back and kick returner. Cason averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 10.2 per catch. He returned both kickoffs (23.4) and punts (9.0). Cason appeared in two playoff games.
Cameron Meredith, wide receiver
The former St. Joseph (Westchester) High School quarterback developed into a productive receiver at ISU before signing with his hometown Chicago Bears. Meredith caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. He also threw a touchdown pass for Chicago. After signing a two-year contract with New Orleans, Meredith’s 2017 season ended with an injury six games into the schedule. His three-year career stats show 86 receptions for 1,122 yards and five touchdowns.