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Underdogs in the Big Game: Every former FCS, DII and DIII Player in Super Bowl LVI

When the Bengals and Rams square off in the Super Bowl on Sunday there will plenty of talent representing from the nation’s smaller schools.

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Super Bowl LVI is mere days away and will feature a parade of talent from the "lower" tiers of college football. We use that word only to describe division, of course, because there's nothing actually lesser about any of the collegiate programs some of these guys once called their own. Viable NFL talent can come from anywhere. In fact, this year's Super Bowl features 15 players that are alum from an FCS school or lower. It's even more impressive when you realize that one of those guys was the best receiver in the entire league this year. The underdog programs of college football will be well represented in Los Angeles on Sunday.


Cincinnati Bengals

Noah Spence, DE - Eastern Kentucky Colonels (FCS)

Spence, despite being in his fifth season in the NFL, has flown relatively under the radar for the Bengals this season but he has seen game action. In Cincinnati’s final two regular season contests he registered six total tackles. Before joining the Bengals this year, Spence spent time with Tampa Bay (by whom he was drafted in 2016), Washington and New Orleans. He has yet to play in the postseason.

Zack Kerr, DT - Delaware Blue Hens (FCS)

Kerr, like the aforementioned Spence, has been a bit of a journeyman in the NFL and only made his way over to Cincinnati this season and notably did so quite recently. He began the season with San Francisco before going to Arizona. Before the start of the playoffs, however, the Bengals claimed him and he’s gotten to see limited action throughout the postseason. He notched his lone tackle in Cincinnati’s Divisional Round win over Tennessee but did also get some snaps in the AFC Championship.

Austin Calitro, LB - Villanova Wildcats (FCS)

NFL: JAN 02 Chiefs at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite not getting any playing time (yet) in the postseason, Calitro has been a vital part of the Bengals have been able to do this season. He too joined the team later in the year, coming over in November, but immediately made an impact when he did. Calitro played in five games for Cincinnati this season and has accounted for six tackles (four solo). The team won three of the five games he played in.

John Brannon, CB - Western Carolina Catamounts (FCS)

Brannon has yet to play for the Bengals this season and his currently on the team’s practice squad.

Los Angeles Rams

Cooper Kupp, WR - Eastern Washington Eagles (FCS)

No former FCS player (or player in general for that matter) has been more important to their team this season than Kupp. The Rams took a chance when they drafted him in the third round back in 2017 and the results have spoken for themselves. In 2021 Kupp blew the gates wide open on what has already been an outstanding career. He led the NFL in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16). During LA’s playoff run alone Kupp has caught 25 passes for 386 total yards and four touchdowns. He’s made play after play for the Rams this season and looks to be a huge factor in the Super Bowl.

J.J. Koski, WR - Cal Poly Mustangs (FCS)

Koski is currently on the Rams’ practice squad but did see action in two games during the regular season. He did not catch any passes but did serve as a return man on both kicks and punts.

Jamil Demby, G - Maine Black Bears (FCS)

Demby is also not active at this time and is on the team’s injured reserve list. He did not get any playing time in 2021.

Jonah Williams, DE - Weber State Wildcats (FCS)

On a Rams defense that’s extremely talented and deep, it’s tough to get playing time with only one year of experience. Williams, though, has been able to do just that if albeit briefly this season. He got in on five tackles this year in as many games and LA won four of those five contests. Williams didn’t play at all in the postseason and is currently on the practice squad.

Michael Hoecht, DT - Brown Bears (FCS)

Hoecht also played intermittently on the Rams defense this year despite being in just his second pro season. He has nine tackles (seven solo) to his name this year including two in the Wild Card win over Arizona.

Chris Garrett, LB - Concordia Cobbers (DIII)

There is only one former DIII player on either of the Super Bowl rosters and that distinction goes to the rookie Garrett. After being taken near the end of the draft last spring, Garrett spent his first season in LA waiting in the wings. He hasn’t seen any game time yet.

Troy Reeder, LB - Delaware Blue Hens (FCS)

Reeder is an unsung hero of the Rams tenacious defense. With superstars like Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey taking much of the spotlight, Reeder has served as a very solid complimentary piece. In his third season in the league, he accounted for 91 total tackles (48 solo) and even snagged two interceptions. Pair that with six PBUs and it was certainly a career-best year in 2021. In the playoffs Reeder notched eight tackles and batted away a pass in the NFC Championship to help the Rams reach the Super Bowl. Often times the big game is decided by someone who isn’t necessarily a household name and Reeder shapes up to be a prime dark horse X factor on Sunday.

NFL: OCT 31 Rams at Texans Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Christian Rozeboom, LB - South Dakota State Jackrabbits (FCS)

Rozeboom began his 2021 campaign with Kansas City before the Rams picked him up midway through the year. He hasn’t gotten much action since joining the team but did author a solo tackle in three different games including the Divisional Round win over Tampa Bay.

Kareem Orr, CB - Chattanooga Mocs (FCS)

Its tough to find to see the field when you play on the Rams defense. Orr, in only his second season, did get some meaningful for snaps on a Monday night game back in December but other than that he didn’t do much this year. He is, however, currently listed as active on the team's roster.

Robert Rochell, CB - Central Arkansas Bears (FCS)

Rochell had himself a respectable rookie campaign before being placed on injured reserved in December. He had his best game in Week 6 against the Giants where he nabbed his first NFL interception and got in on five tackles. He finished his injury-shortened season with 11 solo stops and a fumble recovery along with that one pick.

Matthew Orzech, LS - Azusa Pacific Cougars (DII)

Rounding out the underdog talent in this year’s Super Bowl is the long-snapper Orzech. He is the only DII player in this year’s game and has been reliable for the Rams all season long, playing in each of their 17 regular season contests and their three postseason ones. Punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Matt Gay have both found success with Orzech delivering them the ball. Hekker landed 29 punts inside the 20-yard line this year and Gay made 39 of his 43 field goal attempts and perhaps none bigger than the game-winner a few weeks ago. None of that would have been possible without the consistent play from Orzech.