Brennan Angel

At around 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, Cal Poly football player Kyle Shotwell was initially unsure whether to answer his cell phone when it buzzed in class.

It was a good thing he did.

On the other end was his agent, Ryan Tollner, calling to inform the senior middle linebacker that he had been added late to the West roster for the 82nd annual East-West Shrine Game. Getting into a postseason all-star game is crucial for players like Shotwell hoping to raise their stock for the April 28-29 NFL draft.

“I freaked out kind of outside my class,” Shotwell said. “It’s what you want. I want to showcase my skills coming from a small school where we don’t get much TV exposure.”

The game will be televised nationally on ESPN on Jan. 20. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. PST at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Shotwell won the Buck Buchanan Award on Dec. 14 as the top defensive player in Division I-AA this season. He racked up 122 tackles and seven sacks in leading Cal Poly to a 7-4 record and a final national ranking of No. 16 in The Sports Network’s I-AA poll.

Shotwell will follow in the footsteps of two previous Buchanan Award winners from Cal Poly – linebacker Jordan Beck (2004) and defensive end Chris Gocong (2005). Both were selected to the East-West Shrine Game, which along with the Senior Bowl and Hula Bowl has seen countless future NFL stars on its rosters.

Previous players in the East-West Shrine Game include Pro Football Hall of Famers such as Raymond Berry, Joe Greene, Mike Haynes, Bob Lilly, Merlin Olsen, Alan Page, Dick Butkus and others.

“There will literally be hundreds of scouts at this thing,” Shotwell said. “Kind of one of the crazier parts is there’s always one scout who wants to meet with you. It’s kind of go-go-go.”

Shotwell’s head coach at the game will be Dan Reeves, who won 190 regular-season games and appeared in a combined four Super Bowls from 1981-2003 with the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

On the other sideline leading the East team will be Don Shula, the NFL’s all-time leader in head-coaching victories (328).

But the person Shotwell is most excited to learn under at practice beginning this weekend is West linebackers coach Mike Singletary, a Hall of Famer with the Chicago Bears who along with Ray Lewis is widely considered the best middle linebacker – the same position Shotwell plays – in the modern NFL era. Singletary is currently assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

“I’m going to soak it up as much as I can,” Shotwell said. “After I’m done with football I want to be a football coach and I can’t wait to learn from a guy like Mike Singletary. This is something that will serve me well even after my playing days are done.

“I’m going to try and learn as much as I can from (Singletary). It might be a little intimidating. He knows what a good linebacker looks like, so I want to see what he thinks of me.”

Shotwell’s West teammates include BYU quarterback John Beck, USC linebacker Dallas Sartz, Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor, Fresno State receiver Paul Williams and Fresno State interior offensive lineman Kyle Young.

The headliner on the East squad is Florida quarterback Chris Leak, who is joined by Miami defensive tackle Baraka Atkins, Florida receiver Dallas Baker, Miami tailback Tyrone Moss and Iowa quarterback Drew Tate.

Shotwell proved he could play with I-A talent in a 16-14 win at San Diego State on Oct. 28 in which he had 12 total tackles (11 solo, five for loss), four sacks and one forced fumble. In a 17-7 loss at eventual New Mexico Bowl champion San Jose State on Sept. 23, Shotwell had 11 tackles (seven solo) and a forced fumble.

“That’s the thing I love about football, is competition,” Shotwell said. “I feel when the competition is better I play better. I’m really excited for the opportunity to compete against some of these guys who are the best. I believe I can stack up against them well.”

Shotwell said Cal Poly has not yet officially scheduled a pro day so he and senior teammates who are pro prospects – cornerback Courtney Brown, free safety Kenny Chicoine and nose tackle Chris White – can work out for scouts. Shotwell said the program is trying to schedule the pro day roughly two weeks after February’s NFL Combine in coordination with programs like USC and Cal so that scouts will be in the area.

Shotwell has not yet been invited to the combine, but hopes that will change after he performs at the East-West Shrine Game. Both Beck and Gocong put up impressive numbers at the combine before becoming third-round draft picks of the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively.

“They do some late additions,” Shotwell said. “I’m hoping to perform well at the combine.”

Previous to Beck, Gocong and Shotwell, the last Cal Poly player to play in the East-West Shrine Game was center-linebacker Stan Sheriff in 1954.

Since 1925, the East-West Shrine Game has raised more than $14 million for 22 North America-based Shriners Hospitals for Children, which care for children with severe orthopedic and burn problems.

That means a lot to Shotwell.

“We get to go meet with some of these kids who are terminally ill and spend an afternoon with these kids,” Shotwell said. “That’s something that I’m looking forward to as much as playing the top competition. Just the fact that I get an opportunity to do that.”

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