Senior Bowl looms for two former players

Darryl Sharpton

This weekend, fans will be watching more than just former Hurricane greats like Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Antrel Rolle and Brandon Meriweather. There were 10 former Hurricanes selected to the Pro Bowl, the most from any college. But there are two more former Hurricanes that will be making plays on the gridiron as well, just not at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday night.

Tight end Jimmy Graham and linebacker Darryl Sharpton will be showing off their skills at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium located in Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl.

“I’m very excited to play in the Senior Bowl,” Sharpton said. “It’s an honor to play with all these stars and the talent and competition is truly great and only going to make me better.”

There will be over 800 general managers, coaches, scouts and front office personnel from all 32 NFL teams on hand to evaluate the 100 seniors in preparation for the 2010 NFL Draft in April.

Graham, who played football for the first time since high school after starring four years on the Hurricanes basketball team, was second on the team in touchdown receptions with five. The 6-foot-8-inch, 260 pound tight end had his two biggest catches of his career against two premiere teams in Georgia Tech and Oklahoma. Miami won both of those games.

“It’s amazing to think how everything has really fallen in place for me,” Graham said. “I just started playing football again six months ago and I have come a long long way. Scouts keep telling me I have a lot of upside.”

Graham hopes to join a laundry list of former Hurricane tight ends that starred at the U and continued their success at the next level. Names like Bubba Franks, Kellen Winslow II, Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen all made the seamless transition from playing on Saturdays to Sundays.

“I have been working most on my blocking because that is what all good tight ends must do, block down field,” Graham said. “I feel like I have just scratched the surface.”

Sharpton had a breakout senior campaign. He earned second team All-ACC honors after leading the Canes in tackles with 106. In Sharpton’s previous three seasons he had a combined 156 tackles. The 6-foot, 235 pound linebacker and Coral Gables High alum was named co-MVP along with recent graduate Jason Fox.

“All week I have been working on my foot work and dropping back in coverage,” Sharpton said. “I have been talking to [former UM linebacker] Jon Beason and [current UM linebackers coach] Michael Barrow a lot and picked their brain.”

Sharpton emerged on the scene as he had 8.5 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and the biggest play of his Canes career came against Duke in mid-November. Sharpton recorded his first interception against Duke and scampered 73 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.

Graham and Sharpton will represent the South team. The South team will be coached by Tony Sparano, the head coach for the Miami Dolphins. Graham raved about Sparano’s teaching abilities and Sharpton has been working daily with Dolphins linebackers coach Bill Sheridan.

Last year, Miami ended their streak of having at least one player drafted in the first round of the NFL draft for 14 straight years. The odds of them starting a new streak this coming April are very slim but Graham and Sharpton can improve their stock with strong performances Saturday afternoon.

“This hopefully is just the start of good things to come,” Sharpton said. “I will come back to UM after and train some more, go to the combine and then who knows what will happen in April.”

The Senior Bowl can be seen on the NFL Network.

Justin Antweil may be contacted at