Their chance in the spotlight

Three local college football players play in an all-star game tonight in front of NFL scouts

By Joe Scalzo

At 6 p.m. on Saturday, former Mooney teammates Desmond Marrow and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen were in Tucscon, Ariz., sitting around a television, watching the Saints-49ers playoff game.

They were literally inches away from their dream, and they’ve spent the last week trying to get a little closer.

Marrow, a cornerback from Toledo, and Kitchen, a defensive tackle from Kent State, are two of three area players who will compete in tonight’s Casino Del Sol All-Star game.

The game, formerly known as the Blue-Gray Game and the Eastham Energy All-Star Classic, pits nearly 100 college seniors from around the country in a contest that will feature scouts from every NFL team and some Canadian Football League teams.

Canfield High graduate Sean Baker, a safety from Ball State, will also play.

“It’s great to be so close to my dream,” said Marrow. “Now that college is over, I can just focus on that and trying to make it happen.”

Marrow (6-3, 210), a 2006 Mooney graduate, successfully petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility after missing more than two years with injuries.

He made the most of it last fall, appearing in all 13 games (starting 12) while leading the team in tackles (83) and interceptions (three) and tying for fifth in the country with 18 passes defended to earn first team All-Mid-American Conference honors.

He then forced a fumble in a 42-41 win over Air Force in the Military Bowl to help Toledo finish 9-4.

“Coming back was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” said Marrow, who will return home for about a week before leaving to train in Los Angeles. “I had a great season and I definitely helped my draft stock.”

Kitchen started six of his nine games this season, recording 13 tackles and 2.5 for loss. He missed three games with a dislocated elbow this fall after appearing in all 36 games over the previous three seasons.

His size (6-foot-3, 334 pounds) could be appealing to NFL teams looking for a space-clogging tackle in the middle.

“I’ve been dreaming about the NFL since I was a little kid playing for the [New Bethel] Braves” in the Volney Rogers league,” said Kitchen, who will train in Texas after tonight’s game. “It’s great playing against people from around the country, competing and having fun.”

Casino Del Sol practices have been open to NFL scouts and both Marrow and Kitchen have talked to several teams over the last week. Marrow said he’s spoken with scouts from the Bucanneers, Seahawks, Saints, Dolphins, Eagles, Texans, Jaguars and 49ers, while Kitchen said he’s been interviewed by the Packers, 49ers and Chiefs.

“I’m just trying to show I can make plays,” said Marrow. “Hopefully I can make some plays [tonight], make something happen and show my size and speed.”

Baker (6-1, 209) also earned first team All-MAC honors after making 95 tackles in 10 games with two interceptions. He finished his career as the school’s interceptions leader with 18.

“This week has been a great experience,” said Baker. “I’ve been around great coaches and the players here are awesome. It’s been fun being around guys with that talent level and making friendships with players you have something in common with.

“I’m just trying to show everyone I can make plays with the best of them.”

Baker has been training in Indianapolis and he’ll continue to train there in the weeks leading up to Ball State’s pro day.

“The next couple months will be about business,” he said. “All you can ask for is an opportunity and if it [playing in the NFL] happens, it happens. If not, I’ll just keep working and move on.”

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