County duo creates combine to help lesser-known football recruits

Gwinnett County doesn't have a shortage of football talent, but not every player with college potential will sign a scholarship on Wednesday.

But those unsigned seniors still have options past signing day as smaller colleges fill out their signing classes, and a new combine is designed to help the local players and college coaches in the late-stage recruiting game.

Former Atlanta Falcon Jose Portilla and Brett Burke are heading up the inaugural Sleeping Giants Combine, scheduled for Feb. 17 at Wellness Performance Institute in Suwanee. The event is designed to offer some of the area's top unsigned prospects a shot to work out in front of Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior college coaches who are still actively recruiting players for this year's class.

"We were speaking to a lot of different parents and players, and many of them didn't know their options if their son was not signed by a Division I school," said Portilla, now an accomplished artist who lives in Buford. "There weren't a lot of showcases for for those types of kids."

Now there is.

Portilla and Burke hope to bring about 20 college coaches to WPI along with a large group of college-caliber football talent. Players are eligible for combine invitations if they are unsigned seniors and they have a recommendation from their high school coach that they have the ability to play at the next level.

"Helping kids is first (with the combine)," Burke said. "That was the big reason we started this. I've been in the telecommunications business most of my life, for 35 years, and I wanted to diversify my energy. I've always been a sportsman so I thought this was a good idea."

So he enlisted the help of Portilla, who knows a little about small college football.

The offensive lineman, a member of the Falcons' 1998 NFC championship team, grew into a standout player at Arizona but made his way to the Pac-10 school via Ricks College, a junior college in Idaho. Portilla wasn't heavily recruited as a Texas high school senior because he played only one season of high school football.

"I just wasn't seen (by recruiters)," Portilla said. "I just played my senior year so people didn't know about me. I went to a junior college so I know the frustration of not being recruited.

"Part of the big reward for me is seeing kids move on (to college) at all the different levels. Some of my best memories at the college level are from the JC. Just being able to help young people play college football is very rewarding."

Spots are still open for players who want to participate in the Feb. 17 combine. After a supervised warm-up period, players will be tested in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, 185-pound bench press and 20-yard shuttle run.

• What: Sleeping Giants Combine

• When: Saturday, Feb. 17

• Where: Wellness Performance Institute, Suwanee

• Purpose: A combine to expose unsigned high school senior football players to college coaches from the Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior college levels

• More information: Go to www.sleepinggiants.org or call 404-326-2608