Few people really know the true behind-the-scenes story of how Kyle Shotwell ended up in the East-West Shrine Game three years ago.
The former Cal Poly linebacker was the third consecutive Mustangs player — all three of whom also won the Buck Buchanan Award — to be invited to the college football all-star game in 2007.
When Shotwell followed the footsteps of fellow former Football Championship Subdivision defensive players of the year Jordan Beck and Chris Gocong into the Shrine Game, there was little reason to question how the invite was handed out.
But after returning to this past weekend’s 85th Annual East-West game, won 13-10 by the East, as a special liaison to head coaches Romeo Crennel and Marty Shottenheimer, Shotwell gave the untold story of how he almost didn’t get the chance to play in the first place.
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“Three years ago when I played in it,” said Shotwell, who ended up playing two seasons as a practice squad player in the NFL before returning to coach Cal Poly’s linebackers this fall, “I wasn’t invited at first.
“Christmas came, and I still hadn’t been invited. New Year’s came, and I still hadn’t been invited. I’m watching these guys on TV who’ve been invited playing in these bowl games and stuff.”
Since watching Beck play in the Shrine Game at AT&T Park in San Francisco two seasons earlier, Shotwell had always wanted to do the same. His résumé included a senior season in which he racked up 122 tackles and seven sacks and moved into second on the Mustangs’ all-time tackles list.
But after Beck and Gocong had yet to make names for themselves as professionals, Shotwell was on the outside looking in while other notable FCS linebackers Zak DeOssie and Justin Durant were listed on the East roster.
Shotwell called the game’s executive director, Jack Hart, to explain why he thought he was deserving of the opportunity to play.
“I called every day, sometimes a couple times a day throughout the next three weeks,” Shotwell said, “and still nothing had happened. They still hadn’t invited me.”
Of course, Shotwell played. He finally got the call on the Thursday afternoon before the first full week of practice for the game. A linebacker from the West had dropped out.
Shotwell ended up with a game-high seven tackles and was given the Pat Tillman Award for showing character and work ethic throughout the week of practice leading up to the game.
Shotwell’s persistence opened up doors for him then, giving him some welcome exposure to talent scouts, but it’s also continuing to pay dividends for him.
Shotwell was also on hand at last week’s Shrine Game festivities to hand out this year’s Tillman Award to Boston College linebacker Mike McLaughlin. Shotwell made a speech at the awards banquet, where he shared a table with NFL Hall of Fame players Larry Csonka and Kellen Winslow.
Shotwell also spent the week rubbing elbows and studying offensive meetings, something he has not done much in his career as a defensive player and coach.
“It just kind of really reminded me if you want something bad enough, you work hard enough and you have a good attitude about it and treat someone with respect,” Shotwell said. “It reaffirms to me how funny it is that life has a way of working out. “I plan on going back to the East-West Shrine Game every year for the rest of my life. It’s just pretty awesome that every year, I’m going to have the ability to reconnect with NFL coaches, NFL general managers and NFL scouts. It’s always going to be part of my history and what has made me the person I am.”