Image Credit: College of Idaho Athletics

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“NAIA players don’t make the NFL. It just doesn’t happen.” Have you heard that before? Sure you have. But you know what? It’s not true. The level of play in the NAIA is getting better, and with it, more players are making the league than ever before. Marian’s Brandon Dillon was on the Minnesota Vikings’ active roster all year long. Before him, Marian’s Krishawn Hogan has played in the NFL for the last 3 years.

So when we heard of players playing in both the NFLPA Bowl and the recently resurrected Hula Bowl, we wanted to talk to them. First up is College of Idaho’s own Josh Brown, who took part in both collegiate bowl games. Josh is a 6-7, 305 pound offensive lineman from Colfax, Washington. Let’s take a look first at the Yotes, then at Josh and his all-star bowl experiences!

About the Yotes

For those who aren’t familiar with the College of Idaho, they went on a 17-game winning streak over the course of 2 years. This streak was immediately preceded by a 5-game losing streak and was one of the great stories of both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. We hadn’t had an opportunity to speak to anyone from CoI after last season, so I asked Josh what happened that spurred this sudden turnaround. He spoke of a players-only meeting that placed the burden of winning on the players.

“I think what had happened was it was a new program, and guys were still trying to figure everything out. We’re doing what the coaches were saying. And after that fifth loss, we had a players’ meeting. And we all just started talking like, ‘Do we want to play football? Why are we all here? We’re obviously here to play, and we want to win, but we haven’t.’ And I don’t think all of us are just really bought in, so basically we said, ‘All of us are going to make sure we’re showing up to lifting. All of us are going to make sure we’re doing the extra steps to maintain making the extra effort.'”

Brown continued, “The coaches are saying, ‘You need to do this, this, and this.’ but if we don’t do it, it’s not going to help. You, the player, have to do it. So we all just said, ‘Well, this is what we need to do. And so if we want it, this is what we’re going to do.’ So we just put it upon ourselves instead of having to rely solely on the coaches.”

2-Sport Benefit

A chart was published on Twitter ahead of the Super Bowl showing the percentage of athletes on both the 49ers and Chiefs who had played one of more sports. The results? 90% of these Super Bowl competitors had played more than one sport. Josh Brown was no different at College of Idaho, as he starred both on the football field and in track & field, where he won conference titles in shot put and discus. He set school records with his hammer throw and the shot put. He also threw 35-pound weight.

Josh talked about how that track and field experience benefited him, saying, “Being an offensive lineman, you’ve got to be able to move your feet. You’ve got to have good feet. With throwing, you need to have quick feet to be able to get across the ring quickly, to be able to throw. I really think it helped me a lot, because I was training to have fast feet in two different areas. The technique for blocking somebody and throwing the shot put or the hammer is completely different, but you still need to have quick feet in the ground. So being able to use both of those to help me be better at both by training my feet, having good feet, make sure my feet are on the ground, really helped a lot.”

Going Bowling

Josh followed in the footsteps of Brandon Dillon by participating in college bowl games. While being seen by scouts is important for players at every level, for an NAIA player, it’s even more so. This may be one of only a handful of opportunities they have to impress a pro team. It also shows you who you’re up against.

Josh spoke to this, saying, “I was talking with my agent. We were thinking that, ‘Well, you’re at the NAIA level, which isn’t a bad thing. But you haven’t gone against bigger guys who are faster.’ So I went to all three and just got as many reps as I can against a next-step level of competition and be good for me to get better. It also shows  how much I really want to play in the NFL.”

But what Josh found surprising may also surprise you – the talent differential isn’t that big. He said, “The biggest surprise for me was just having these big D1 schools there. I guess I was expecting all of them to be perfect and way faster and way better than I had ever seen before. And some of them were good, but it wasn’t like what I had worked up in my mind. It was like I can hang with these guys, it’s okay. It just turned back into what my agent told me – ‘You all got the same invite, the same thing. So you’re there for a reason.’ So that was a confidence booster knowing that I belonged there and I was able to hang with some of these guys.”

Helmet Stickers

One of the great parts of the collegiate all-star bowls are the helmet decals. These are traded between players. I wanted to know which ones Josh liked best. He had a different thought – “I’m just always trying to get as many as I can. I felt like the one with the most stickers, his helmet would be the cool one, when you have the most stickers.” But Josh did get some swag. “Navy was there, and so I thought that they have pretty cool stuff. So I went up to ask him, ‘Hey, can I get a sticker?’ And he said, ‘No, I don’t have any stickers, but I have a hat.’ I said to myself, ‘Wow, I can keep this longer than wearing it through a game, so I’ll totally take a hat.'”

Just for Fun

I wanted to know – what’s the best place to eat, and what’s the best thing to do in Caldwell, Idaho? Josh didn’t disappoint – here’s his tips for Caldwell’s best:

“My favorite restaurant to eat was Jalapeno’s. Me and a bunch of O-line guys went there all the time. The waiters there pretty much knew our orders. If you’re in town when the rodeo’s around, I highly recommend going to that. There’s a lot to go down there and it’s pretty cool. They’ll take the whole football team to the rodeo, so it’s really cool for some of the guys who have never been before and don’t know what’s going on and experience it. There’s always one kid on the team that’s gotta be the know-it-all, so they just grab a kid and just start talking and explaining everything, and that kid might not even want to know all the details, but they’re gonna get it anyway.”