Now that their college careers are over, Barry Church and Freddie Barnes realize it's time to make a name for themselves beyond the landscape of the Mid-American Conference.
Church, a four-time first-team All-MAC safety from the University of Toledo, and Barnes, the nation's all-time single-season receptions leader from Bowling Green State University, are currently training in Orlando, Fla., in preparation for the East-West Shrine Game at the Citrus Bowl tomorrow at 3 p.m., which will be broadcast on ESPN2.
The college football all-star showcase is the oldest of its kind, with this being the 85th installment of the game.
Players arrived in central Florida last weekend. In addition to daily practices, they also visited the Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa on Sunday.
"We just want to show the scouts as players from the MAC, it doesn't matter what conference you come from or what division you come from," Church said. "If you're a good football player, you can play with anybody. We want to show we can play with the LSU, Florida, and Florida State players that are here."
Church said he's been spending most of his free time with Barnes and Buffalo's Naaman Roosevelt, as the threesome are the only representatives from the MAC playing in the game.
"We hang out every day," Church said. "We're all becoming good friends, and hopefully we'll represent the MAC well."
All three are members of the East squad, which will be led by former Cleveland Browns coach and current Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
After the game, Church will return to Cutting Edge Sports outside Los Angeles, where he's been working out since the end of the season, and will begin preparing for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on March 2.
Barnes has not yet received an invitation to the NFL's largest scouting event, but he's hoping a good showing tomorrow will earn him a trip to Indy.
Under advice from BGSU coach Dave Clawson, Barnes remains hopeful about his NFL future.
"He just tells me they [NFL scouts] like my work ethic," Barnes recently told The Blade. "Since he's been here, he always told me I need to get my 40 time down. I'm definitely going to continue to do that."
Barnes also has remained grounded when pondering his future in pro football. He's been rated as high as the 20th-best wide receiver eligible for the NFL Draft by one scouting Web site.
"They say I'll be a free agent, so depending on what team I go to I [think] I can have a chance to make a team," Barnes said. "I just use that as motivation."
That hasn't stopped the growing excitement from Barnes' family and friends, however.
"Everybody thinks that I'm going to get drafted in the first round and all that, but I know the reality of the situation and know that isn't going to happen," he said. "My coach didn't need to tell me that. I've been watching ESPN so long and following the NFL so long that I understand what they're looking for, and I didn't exactly meet the criteria with my 40 time or my height. I know I've got an uphill battle to fight in order to reach my goal."
Most scouting Web sites predict Church will be drafted between rounds 3-7. He is rated by nfldraftscout.com as the 10th-best strong safety eligible for the draft.
"It doesn't matter to me where I'm rated, as long as I'm drafted," Church said. "Training has been going great out in LA. I'm getting a lot faster and quicker and going through a lot of different drills and just all-around improving.
"It's been a great experience. It's what I always dreamed about, and hopefully my dream is almost coming true."
Blade sports writer Don Emmons contributed to this report.
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