Tomorrow, the “Granddaddy of the All-Star Games” will take place as the East-West Shrine will have its 96th rendition. The well-traveled all-star game which has also called San Francisco, Oakland, New Orleans, Houston, Orlando, and St. Petersburg home will enter its second year in Las Vegas.
This year, three MAC players, Eastern Michigan defensive end Jose Ramirez, Ball State cornerback Nic Jones, and Central Michigan tight end Joel Wilson will play in Thursday’s Shrine Bowl. For Jones and Wilson, they continue a brief but interesting tradition in Las Vegas all-star games for their schools.
From 2004-2006, Sam Boyd Stadium hosted the Las Vegas All-American Classic. The game had relocated from the campus of Dixie State (now Utah Tech University) in St. George, Utah to Sin City. The game was a lower profile game, which featured several Group of Five players. Additionally, the MAC participated in the first five Las Vegas Bowls against the Big West's champion.
Ball State corner Nic Jones will follow in the footsteps of Cardinal great Justin Beriault who participated in the 2004 Las Vegas All-American Classic. Beriault was a 4-year standout for the Cardinals totaling 508 tackles, 4 interceptions, 12 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Amazingly, Beriault totaled over 100 tackles in all four of his seasons, including 145 in his junior year in 2003. Along with his Las Vegas All-American Classic nod, Beriault was a Freshman All-American for multiple selectors and was drafted in the sixth round by the Cowboys.
Nic Jones also was a standout at corner for the Cardinals totaling 19 pass breakups in his career including 12 this season alone. Jones also added three career interceptions in his career. Along with Jones and Beriault’s appearances in Las Vegas all-star game, Sin City has a special place in Ball State’s history as Ball State appeared in the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl after winning the MAC with an 8-3 record, with a 6-1 mark in the MAC.
Central Michigan tight end Joel Wilson will follow in the footsteps of legendary Chippewa quarterback Kent Smith, who played in the 2006 Las Vegas All-American Classic. Before Dan Lefevour revolutionized the quarterback position, Kent Smith was a dangerous dual threat.
In his Chippewa career, Smith threw for 5179 yards and 33 touchdowns and ran for 900 yards and 18 touchdowns. He remains in the top ten of five Central Michigan career categories including ranking 5th all-time in total offense.
Like Vanessa Williams, Smith saved his best for last as he threw for 2799 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 443 yards and seven more touchdowns. In the 2006 Las Vegas All-American Classic, Smith threw a touchdown pass to extend the East’s lead to 19-3. After his career, the Raiders signed Smith to a free agent deal, but he never appeared in a game.
Wilson was a weapon for the Chippewa offense like Smith, catching 82 passes for 874 yards and 12 touchdowns. This past season was his best season as he caught 44 passes for 445 yards and six touchdowns.
While all the players are playing for greater visibility and a chance to improve their draft stock, the appearances by these MAC players will help fans relive memories of a different time on the college football all-star game landscape.