Andew Rupcich hits the big stage this week in Pasadena.
The 2017 McHenry West graduate is working out this week for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl 2022 at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The game will be broadcast on the NFL Network.
Rupcich, a left tackle from NAIA Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri, gets his chance to compete with players from larger schools while being coached by former NFL coaches and players, and under the watchful eyes of NFL scouts.
For Rupcich, who has been contacted by all 32 NFL teams, it might be the biggest week of his football career.
“ It’ll be big for my stock,” said Rupcich, who is 6-foot-6, 320 pounds. “Just seeing how I stack up with these guys and being able to show that I belong with these guys, if I go out there and do what I’m supposed to do, nobody’s going to have question marks about who I am as a player and the level of competition that I’ve had to go through.”
The week already has been successful for Rupcich as he just received an invitation to the NFL Combine, which will take place the first week of March in Indianapolis. It is rare for NAIA players and he hoped that would happen with his performance this week.
NFL teams know about Rupcich, who likely will end up in an NFL training camp this summer. He was a force for the Wildcats and twice was named to The Associated Press NAIA All-America First Team.
Rupcich graduated from Culver-Stockton in December with his degree in physical education and health and headed to Frisco, Texas to work out. He trains at EXOS and also works out with trainer Chad Marr of Marr Strength. There is a large group of NFL hopefuls that Rupcich works out with every day, preparing for the NFL Draft in April.
Rupcich’s agent Dave Butz, of SportStars, the son of former NFL defensive tackle Dave Butz, hooked him up with the trainers to get him ready.
Rupcich enjoys working with Marr.
“He basically is trying to reprogram my body to work as one instead of using different muscles at different times,” Rupcich said. “We think that’s going to help me a lot.”
Rupcich will play for the National Team, coached by former Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. NFL Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater is one of his offensive line coaches this week.
The practices this week may be more important than the game.
“I’m going to be playing multiple positions during this week,” Rupcich said. “That’s the biggest thing for me. They want to see how I compete at not only left tackle, but at guard and center.”
Butz and NFL scouts who had seen Rupcich were able to get his name out there as a candidate to play in an all-star game. Rupcich also had invites from the Hula Bowl and College Gridiron Showcase, but he and Butz thought the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl might serve him best.
“It sounds like he has a pretty awesome opportunity,” former McHenry coach Jon Niemic said. “He has a chance to get in front of guys who can evaluate NFL talent and a chance to practice day in and day out against Division I guys who really will hopefully shoot his stock up.
“The practices are the biggest thing. Then the coaches really get a chance to evaluate rep-to-rep, session-to-session, and really see how he’s going to stack up against some of these guys. I think he’s going to do fine. He’s got good feet, he always played with a little bit of a nasty streak, which you need. And, of course, it helps being 6-6 when you’re trying to protect the guy behind you.”
Rupcich made the most of his college career at a small school. He started for four years and was an integral part of C-SC coach Tom Sallay’s team, which improved dramatically through those seasons.
“He really kind of grew into his body,” Niemic said. “He grew 2 inches after high school. Once he got to college, he really grew a fondness of the weight room. He started to really realize the time and the work to put in and what that could do for his game on the field.”
Rupcich calls it his “commitment to football.”
“Committing to the program, committing to my coaches,” he said. “I would not be here if I didn’t commit to the program. The biggest thing was last summer I stayed down here (in Missouri) for my training and it allowed me to indulge and craft everything to a better level than I had before.
“A big thing for this game is the training I’m getting here is some of the best training I’ve ever had focusing on technique, certain aspects of strength, what I’m going to need to be successful at the next level. That’s all extremely crazy to have.”