Coastal Carolina

Five Coastal Carolina players receive their shot at the NFL as free agents

Former Coastal Carolina tackle Voghens Larrieux (in white) has been invited to attend the Buffalo Bills rookie mini camp.
Former Coastal Carolina tackle Voghens Larrieux (in white) has been invited to attend the Buffalo Bills rookie mini camp. jlee@thesunnews

De’Angelo Henderson was the only Coastal Carolina player selected in the NFL Draft that concluded Saturday, but he is just one of a half dozen Chanticleers who are being given a chance to make a 2017 NFL roster.

Five of Henderson’s teammates from the 2016 CCU football team have been invited to attend NFL team rookie camps as free agents in the wake of the draft.

Agreeing to attend camps Saturday or Sunday were guard Sam Ekwonike with the New York Giants, tackle Voghens Larrieux with the Buffalo Bills, tackle Chase Tidwell with the Seattle Seahawks, safety Richie Sampson with the Minnesota Vikings and linebacker Alex Scearce with the Chicago Bears.

“I’m excited for everybody,” Larrieux said. “We have a group chat where we talk about this and this has been the plan from the beginning. It’s something we all deserve and all worked for. I’ve seen the grind they put in and worked for.

“For a school like Coastal Carolina to have this many players have an opportunity to make the NFL is exciting.”

Henderson, who holds just about all of CCU’s career running back records, was drafted in the sixth round Saturday by the Denver Broncos.

The six players will report to their respective three-day rookie mini-camps within the next two weeks, and those are followed by the start of the Rookie Football Development Programs on May 15.

The five free agents will look to follow in the footsteps of fellow Chanticleers Quinton Teal, Maurice Simpkins, Mike Tolbert, Denzel Rice and Jamie Childers that made NFL rosters or practice squads as undrafted free agents. Henderson is the sixth Chanticleer to be drafted.

I think it’s awesome so many guys from a school like Coastal Carolina are being given a chance to show themselves in the NFL and make a career out of it.

Former CCU linebacker Alex Scearce

It’s not a shock that three members of the CCU offensive line have drawn the attention of NFL scouts and coaches. The Chants went 10-2 last season despite using seven different quarterbacks and losing Henderson and other running backs for parts of the season because of injury, and the offense gained more than 200 yards on the ground in all but one game despite opposing defenses knowing the Chants were limited in the passing game.

Behind the offensive line’s efforts, Henderson was a two-time All-American and quarterback Alex Ross, whose collegiate career ended in 2015, was a two-time national offensive player of the year finalist as well as an All-American.

Larrieux, a 2016 All-American who is 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, played both left and right tackle both this past season and throughout his career. He and Ekwonike were the only Chants to start each of the last 38 CCU games. As a starter, Larrieux was only flagged five times and allowed just 5.5 sacks. He’s ready for his opportunity.

“It’s kind of been like my life story in proving myself, so this is just another stepping stone,” said Larrieux, who will earn his Masters in Business Adminstration at CCU before attending mini camp. “I’m not just coming in there to make the team. I’m coming in to get a starting spot. I’ll have tunnel vision and pay attention to what the coaches say. You only have one shot so you have to give it your best.”

Ekwonike, who is 6-2 and 355 pounds, is one of four Chanticleers to play all 53 games over the last four years. As a starter at right guard, he had 83 knockdown blocks, including 23 as a senior.

In Ekwonike’s three years as a starter, CCU had its top two passing yard games, its top game for total offense, three of the school’s top five seasons for rushing yards per attempt, the school record for passing yards and three of the school’s top six seasons for total offense.

Tidwell, who is 6-5 and 295 pounds, only played 20 collegiate games, starting 12 as a junior and eight as a senior, when he was only whistled for one penalty. As a junior – his first year of playing organized football on any level – he was the team’s top-graded offensive lineman five times, played the second-most plays among the linemen and committed just one penalty.

Scearce earned first team All-America honors in 2016 and finished sixth in the FCS Buck Buchanan FCS National Defensive Player of the Year. His five interceptions tied for first among all Division I linebackers (both FCS and FBS). Scearce may have been the most productive player in all of Division I football as Coastal scored seven defensive touchdowns in 2016 — second-best total in all Division I behind Alabama’s 10 – and Scearce was directly responsible for five as he returned two picks for TDs, recovered a fumble for a TD and forced two fumbles that were recovered for TDs.

Scearce, who may be a bit undersized at linebacker at 6-3 and 220 pounds, ran a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash at CCU’s Pro Day and bench-pressed 225 pounds 24 times while recording a standing vertical jump of 34 feet, 5 inches and broad jump of 10-4.

“I was able to get my foot in the door right now, but that doesn’t mean anything. You can get cut at any time,” said Scearce, who said he has signed a three-year contract. “I’ll try to help out as much on special teams when I get there and hopefully that turns into an opportunity at linebacker. My mentality is I know what I need to do. I’ll take a humble mentality where I’ll do everything I need to do and hope everything works out.”

Sampson missed 14 games over his career but was productive when he played. He finished his career ranked third on CCU’s all-time list for interception return yards (139), fourth in unassisted tackles (153), fifth in passes defended (28), seventh in fumbles forced (3) and 13th in total tackles (208). He was third on the team in tackles this past season and was named the team’s defensive MVP in two games.

Sampson, who is 6-2 and 205 pounds, ran a 4.48-second 40 at CCU’s Pro Day and added impressive marks with a broad jump of 10-6 and vertical of 39 inches. All of those measurables would have been among the top performers among the 24 safeties who participated in the NFL Scouting Combine in early March.

“I think it’s awesome so many guys from a school like Coastal Carolina are being given a chance to show themselves in the NFL and make a career out of it,” Scearce said.

A few other Chants with pro aspirations, including wide receiver Bruce Mapp and defensive back Kamron Summers, are still hoping to be given their shot with an NFL team.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin