South Florida’s Mitchell Wilcox Made Most Of His Shrine Bowl Week; FIU’s James Morgan Embraces Pat Tillman Award

East tight end Mitchell Wilcox, of South Florida, before the East West Shrine football game Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Second day of the NFL draft? Third day?

Who knows?

What we do know is the team that selects former South Florida tight end Mitchell Wilcox will be getting a first-class individual in every sense.

That team will also get a versatile player. Wilcox, listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, spent this week at East-West Shrine Bowl practices and in Saturday’s game lined up as an F-back, what some might refer to as an H-back. Either way, think in terms of a hybrid fullback/tight end lining up just off the line of scrimmage, such as in this video from Tuesday’s practice.

Wilcox, who was among 12 players participating in the Shrine Bowl that played collegiately in the Sunshine State, also lined at receiver split wide left in addition to the traditional tight end alignment.

“They felt comfortable putting me in some different spots and I thought that was good,” said USF’s all-time leading receiver (receptions and yardage) among tight ends, following his East squad’s 31-27 win in the longest-running (1925) college all-star game.

Wilcox, whose lone catch came in the third quarter and went for six yards, felt comfortable during a productive week at Tropicana Field, about 30 miles south on I-275 from USF.

“It was a great learning experience,” said the Tarpon Springs native and product of Tarpon Springs High. “I learned so much from the pro coaches this week. I am thankful to have been on the same field with some of my teammates, and the competition was great.”

The Bulls certainly had their ups and downs during Wilcox’s time in the program. Regardless of what their standing might have been in the American Athletic Conference or what was reflected on the scoreboard any given game, Wilcox always put forth a supreme effort while improving every facet of his game.

“This past year I tried to put it all together and I am working on becoming the best, well-rounded tight end I can be,” he said.

A fun note is that Wilcox’s roommate during the week was former War on I-4 opponent Adrian Killins. The do-it-all running back at UCF had seven receptions for 92 yards, both game highs. He carried the ball only once, for no gain.

“We’ve been going against each other the last four years, but he is such a nice guy and I can’t speak highly enough about him,” said Wilcox. “We talked a lot about our programs, how everything went for us over the years. He is one heck of a player and he had that one long run today. Boy, he is so shifty. It was great to get to know him.”

It’s been great for USF fans to get to know Wilcox the past few years.

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The Killins run that Wilcox referred to took place in the fourth quarter and with the East at their own 33 yard line.

Killins caught a screen from former Mississippi State and Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens that turned into a dazzling 37-yard play. Running out of real estate on the right sideline, Killins cut across the field and turned up into West territory before being pushed out of bounds at the 30.

Five plays later former Charlotte running back and the game’s offensive MVP, Benny LeMay, was in the end zone for the decisive score with 1:57 remaining.

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Former FIU quarterback James Morgan, who transferred from Bowling Green and spent the past two seasons running the Panthers’ offense under Butch Davis, marched the East squad down the field on the game’s initial possession. The 10-play, 77-yard drive was capped by his nine-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marcus Bradley, who played at Louisiana.

On the day, Morgan completed 9-of-14 passes for 116 yards. The performance capped a memorable week.

“One of the best things about this week is that it was about more than football,” said the 6-foot-4 Green Bay native. “I didn’t really quite realize that coming in, but spending time at (Tampa’s Shriners Hospital for Children) with the children was fantastic and very inspirational for me.”

Each year the East-West Shrine Bowl presents the Pat Tillman Award to recognize the player who best exemplifies intelligence, sportsmanship and service. Morgan, who threw for 5,375 yards and 40 touchdowns in his two seasons at FIU, was this year’s recipient.

“I am absolutely honored and humbled to be mentioned with an award with his name on it given everything he did for our country,” he said. “Giving up the football dream, the football dream that we have been living here this week to compete for a job in the NFL, he gave that up to go serve our country. I cannot say enough about how much that means to me.”

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Former Miami linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney were among five East players to lead the squad with five tackles. Pinckney had two tackles for loss….A pair of former Florida receivers caught a pass. Josh Hammond’s reception went for 32 yards and Freddie Swain’s was good for 13.

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Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.