Former University of Louisville center Mario Benavides said he had hopes of playing in the Senior Bowl, which has long been the most prestigious season-ending college All-Star game for graduating seniors.
But there are other games garnering noteworthy exposure on the All-Star circuit and given the opportunity, Benavides accepted an offer from the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl All-Star game. It made it easier to decide when he found out he would be joined by former teammate Alex Kupper, who is in the game on the opposing team.
The two will compete in the game on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The event is televised on ESPN2.
"It's going to be fun and it's always nice to have somebody right there you know," said Benavides, who headed to Boca Raton, Fla., to start working out for his professional career the week after the Sugar Bowl victory.
Kupper, who played every position on the line for U of L, said the Collegiate Bowl will give the two former U of L stars a chance at opening some eyes.
"This is just another opportunity to put our name out there and show the NFL people that we can do it," Kupper said.
Benavides, who is from Los Fresnos, Texas, started 47 career games for the Cardinals. He started the final 23 games of his career.
An All-Big East Conference performer, Benavides was named one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's best center. ESPN.com currently lists him as the No. 5 center in the NFL Draft.
"I just have to grind away," Benavides said.
While helping U of L to the Sugar Bowl win over Florida was "such a great experience," Benavides said he had to turn the chapter in his life in a hurry. He signed with an agent and was in Florida soon after the game.
"I've always been good at not dwelling on the past but just moving forward," Benavides said. "I never get too caught up in anything and I've always just been that way. Louisville can't support me anymore. I will always love it there.
"My time at Louisville was amazing. But I have to move on and get ready for the next step. It's different not having somebody wake you up and tell you what you have to do all day long. But it's what I have to do."
Benavides is projected anywhere from the fourth to sixth rounds of the draft, which will be held in April.
Kupper, a former Trinity High standout, started his career as a walk-on but was a mainstay on the line in recent years. He played all three positions on the line and was a leader of the unit. He was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is an award that recognizes the top walk-on in college football.
Kupper was a second-team All-Big East performer.
With a degree in biology, Kupper said he hasn't signed with an agent yet and was having some meeting during his week in California. But he said he recently talked to line coach Dave Borbely about his NFL chances.
"He said the biggest thing is that you have to make a team fall in love with you," Kupper said. "He said it has to be the right fit. I want to play (in the NFL), so we'll just have to see what happens."
But Kupper, whose family history has a long line of pharmacists in it, has a backup plan just in case the NFL doesn't work out.
"If it ends abruptly, I will probably finish up the masters program I am in right now and start looking for a job," he said. "If I do carry on a little or have a long career then I will look into pharmacy school. It's great to get a chance."
And for both former U of L players, the chance has started. Former NFL head coaches directed the four practices this week at the bowl.
Benavides will wear No. 51 for the National team coached by Dick Vermeil, while Kupper will be in No. 74 for the American team and coach Herm Edwards.