If there were ever a football version of on-campus recruiting, the East-West Shrine Game would come pretty close. Every year, 121 players with NFL ambitions from the nation’s top FBS and FCS programs are invited to play in the All-Star game preceded by a week of practices and one-on-one interviews with professional scouts from all 32 NFL franchises in St. Petersburg, Fla.
For the first time in 28 years, Penn was represented in the game’s elite company, as senior quarterback Alek Torgersen earned the Quakers’ first official invitation since Joe Valerio in 1991.
For the four days preceding Saturday’s game, Torgersen spent his afternoons practicing for the East under the direction of Arizona Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner. Dozens of scouts lined the sidelines for each practice to size up the talent.
According to the senior, it was a bit of a scramble to organize players with different schematic offensive backgrounds under one united offense in such little time.
“One of the biggest challenges was adjusting to the game and the speed at which people were playing and getting used to where they’re going to be at certain points in time,” Torgersen said. “All-Star games happen so fast in such a short week that it’s hard to learn the whole offense and get comfortable.”
In the evenings, prospective players got exclusive face time with scouts and upper level staff from each of the 32 NFL franchises. The senior described the process as “exhausting,” with meetings lasting as late as 11 p.m.
Despite the challenging week, Torgersen impressed scouts early on with his “sturdy” arm, prompting a series of tweets by professionals who liked what they saw in the quarterback.
His strong practice performances earned him the starting position for Saturday’s game, an epic defensive battle that ended with a 10-3 loss for the East. While under center, the Penn senior made four completions on seven attempts for 44 passing yards. Even still, commentators continued to be wooed by him.
* * *
“My biggest takeaway was just knowing that I can play with guys from bigger schools and upper level divisions,” he said. “That was something that I thought was going to be my biggest issue coming in, adjusting to the speed of the game. This week showed me that I’m capable of doing that.”
Armed with newfound confidence, Torgersen returns to Philadelphia with renewed focus to make his NFL dreams a reality — dreams he did not even consider until recently.
“I didn’t really think about it much this year for my senior season. I kind of just wanted to play football and have fun out there,” he said. “I just wanted to win a championship.”
The veteran quarterback’s narrow-minded focus paid off, as he tallied 17 passing touchdowns, 8 rushing touchdowns and 2,750 total yards of offense en route to a second consecutive Ivy League Championship. Torgersen’s ultimate season for the Red and Blue earned him unanimous first team All-Ivy honors and even the notice of Sports Illustrated, which pegged him as tenth-ranked quarterback prospect entering the 2016 NFL Draft.
While the senior certainly made a good impression at the East-West Shrine Game, the road ahead of him to an NFL roster is still long.
“Next would be trying to get a[n NFL] Combine invite, either for a workout as a quarterback or just being a throwing quarterback,” he said. Additionally, Torgersen plans on attending local pro days in the spring to pique scouts’ interest.
As a promising NFL prospect, the Quakers’ quarterback is in rare company, as only six former Penn players have been signed by NFL teams in the last ten years. Of those, the only Penn alum to see action on Sundays is 2013 graduate Brandon Copeland, who currently plays for the Detroit Lions.
Torgersen still has nearly four months to impress NFL teams before the draft takes place in Philadelphia on April 27-29. With luck, he’ll join the ranks of an illustrious group of Quakers’ alumni in professional sports.
“I’m just hoping to get my name called,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I just kind of want to go all in and enjoy it.”