Believe it, FCS players could make mark in Super Bowl LV
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By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - When legendary quarterback Tom Brady reached out in a text last March to introduce himself to Cameron Brate, one of his new Tampa Bay Buccaneers' teammates, Brate first worried he was falling victim to a prank on the other end of the unknown cell number.
Before responding to the text, the former Harvard tight end consulted with teammate Chris Godwin about its validity.
The text was real, of course, and nearly a year later, the Super Bowl LV scenario is quite mind-blowing, especially for a player like Brate who came from FCS college football - the perceived "small school" lower half of Division I that has filled the NFL with top talents, even if the recognition hasn't always matched that fact.
On Sunday, the Buccaneers will become the first team to play football's biggest game in their home stadium, and they're doing so against a Kansas City Chiefs squad that seeks its second consecutive Super Bowl win.
"If you're able to get to the next level and get that Super Bowl title on your name, that's forever etched on to you, (to) get into that history book. That would be an amazing thing to do," Buccaneers right guard Aaron Stinnie, a former FCS All-American at James Madison, said in an interview with his alma mater's media relations staff.
The FCS will have plenty of football this month because it will soon kick off a pandemic-delayed season, but first the level can take collective pride in its former standouts at the Super Bowl.
The subdivision is well represented on the rosters. The Bucs boast 12 former players, including seven on the active roster as well as a trio of offensive linemen from James Madison - Stinnie plus Josh Wells and Earl Watford. Six Chiefs are from the FCS, including four on the active roster and three who were a part of last year's world champions - starting defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, Khalen Saunders and Alex Brown.
"This will be about effort and execution, but we've been here before, so that helps us," said Kpassagnon (pronounced pass-N-yo), a defensive end from Villanova.
Some of the former FCS players have made key contributions this postseason. Stinnie, a third-year NFL player, didn't have an NFL start until an injury opened up right guard to him two games ago in the NFC divisional round against New Orleans. Kpassagnon had an 18-yard sack of Buffalo's Josh Allen in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game. Brate is third on the Bucs in receptions and receiving yards through three road playoff wins, including a touchdown reception at Green Bay in the NFC title game.
Of course, the Bucs won't be playing on the road on Sunday. As history unfolds, perhaps a "small school" player with step up in a big way.
"It's pretty cool," Brate said. "It seemed like since we signed Tom in March, everybody kind of joked around, 'Yup, Bucs are going to be in the Super Bowl at home.' And we are, a year later from that point. It's definitely special to all of us."
Former FCS players on the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers rosters in Super Bowl LV:
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
20, Antonio Hamilton, CB, South Carolina State
67, Daniel Kilgore, C, Appalachian State
92, Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova
99, Khalen Saunders, DT, Western Illinois
30, Alex Brown, DB, South Carolina State
68, Bryan Witzmann, OG, South Dakota State
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
84, Cameron Brate, TE, Harvard
49, Cam Gill, OLB, Wagner
73, Joe Haeg, OT, North Dakota State
29, Ryan Smith, CB, North Carolina Central
64, Aaron Stinnie, OG, James Madison
17, Justin Watson, WR, Penn
72, Josh Wells, OT, James Madison
57, Quinton Bell, OLB, Prairie View A&M
16, Travis Jonsen, WR, Montana State
89, Josh Pearson, WR, Jacksonville State
70, Earl Watford, OL, James Madison
62, Brad Seaton, OL, Villanova
Updated February 4, 2021