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January 17, 2013

Hood: The miscarriage of Justice



When DeVonte Holloman, T.J. Johnson and Devin Taylor stride onto the practice field today in St. Petersburg, Fla., in preparation for Saturday's East-West Shrine game at Tropicana Field, former South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham won't be there.

When D.J. Swearinger flies to Mobile, Ala., this weekend to begin a week of practice and activities leading up to the Jan. 26 Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Cunningham won't be there, either.

Former USC kicker Adam Yates and defensive tackle Byron Jerideau are spending this week at California State University-Dominguez Hills in Carson, Calif., and will participate in Saturday's NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

Cunningham isn't there.

Finally, linebacker Shaq Wilson is set to play in the inaugural Raycom College Football All-Star Classic on Saturday at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.

Cunningham? Don't ask.

Curiously, in spite of a solid senior campaign that saw him catch 23 passes for 324 yards, Cunningham was denied a roster spot in any of the dizzying number of post-season college football all-star games.

And that, my friends, is a repulsive miscarriage of justice.

Yes, pun intended.

Three weeks ago in Tampa, Cunningham was asked what he was doing next. He answered, "Who knows? Hopefully, I can get picked up somewhere and do pretty well at the Combine or something. Get to where I've got to be in life."

Yes, you could sense the built-up frustration in his voice.

Unheralded and unappreciated by those on the outside looking in should be Cunningham's middle name. Remember, he was rated a two-star prospect coming out of Central High School.

But he wasn't deterred and quickly earned a place on the two-deep depth chart because of his exceptional blocking skills.

Coaches talk all the time about players being rewarded for a "team-first" mentality - and Cunningham clearly possessed that trait - but somehow all that was disregarded when it came time to pick sides for the all-star games.

If overlooking Cunningham is not unscrupulous enough, a comparison of his statistics with some of the tight ends that did secure invitations to the top four all-star games will convince you that someone, somewhere is guilty of a felony.

Foolishness in the first degree.

Cunningham finished his senior season with 23 receptions for 324 yards, career-highs in both categories. His reliability (53 career appearances) and blocking skills (off the charts) were his trademark.

Sure, he wasn't flashy and was never the top target of USC's quarterbacks, but he made a number of big plays (see catches vs. Vanderbilt and Tennessee) and the fact that he was voted a team captain in 2012 demonstrates the high degree of respect his teammates had for Cunningham.

Researching the numbers compiled by some of the tight ends invited to postseason all-star game is eye-opening. Cunningham had more receptions and receiving yards this past season than eight of the 20 tight ends appearing to all-star games.

Lucas Reed of New Mexico is participating in the East-West Shrine game after catching five passes this past season. Auburn's Philip Lutzenkirchen missed a significant portion of the 2012 season with an injury, yet accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl.

Rice's backup tight end was invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, while Alabama's seldom-used second-team tight end secured an invite to the Raycom Classic. Granted, he could be a great blocker, but is he really that much better than Cunningham? Doubtful.

So, Rice's tight end, who has all of nine receptions for 126 yards, was deemed more deserving than Cunningham of a spot in an all-star game? Afraid so.

And, Alabama's backup tight end, who had only five catches for 39 yards in 2012, is participating in a bowl game while Cunningham is staying home? Tragically, yes.

There's even a tight end from tiny Cumberland College playing in the Raycom College All-Star Classic, as well as tight ends from Idaho State, San Jose State, Sacramento State and Connecticut.

Touching. But, bearing in mind Cunningham is staying at home with nowhere to go, I have another word for it.

Travesty.

Here is a list of the senior tight ends playing in the various all-star games being staged this weekend (Jan. 19) or next weekend (Jan. 26) and their 2012 offensive statistics:

Senior Bowl
Travis Kelce (Cincinnati) - 45 catches, 722 yards, eight TD
Philip Lutzenkirchen (Auburn) - 15 catches, 139 yards, no TD (injured)
Vance McDonald (Rice) - 36 catches, 458 yards, two TD
Ryan Otten (San Jose State) - 47 catches, 742 yards, four TD
Mike Williams (Alabama) - 24 catches, 183 yards, four TD
Nick Kasa (Colorado) - 25 catches, 391 catches, three TD
Mychal Rivera (Tennessee) - 36 catches, 562 yards, five TD

East-West Shrine Game:
D.C. Jefferson (Rutgers) - 20 catches, 168 yards, one TD
Chris Pantale (Boston College) - 21 catches, 189 yards, two TD
Lucas Reed (New Mexico) - 5 catches, 37 yards, no TD
Joseph Fauria (UCLA) - 46 catches, 637 yards, 12 TD
Josh Hill (Idaho State) - 70 catches, 630 yards, five TD
Zach Sudfield (Nevada) - 45 catches, 598 yards, eight TD

NFLPA Collegiate Bowl:
TJ Knowles (Sacramento State) - 38 catches, 381 yards, five TD
Luke Willson (Rice) - 9 catches, 126 yards, two TD
Ben Cotton (Nebraska) - 18 catches, 239 yards, two TD

Raycom College Football Classic:
Brandon Ford (Clemson) - 40 catches, 480 yards, eight TD
B.J. Stewart (Cumberland) - 21 catches, 396 yards, five TD
Kelly Johnson (Alabama) - 5 catches, 39 yards, no TD
Ryan Griffin (Connecticut) - 29 catches, 484 yards, six TD

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