By Scott Dryden –
The odds of making an NFL roster from an FCS school are remote – from a Division II school almost unheard of. Antonio Pipkin attended Tiffin University – a school with an enrollment under 4,000 located about two hours south of Cleveland.
If he makes it to the NFL, he won’t be the first from Tiffin. Nate Washington and Chris Ivory both made the league as undrafted free agents after playing for the Dragons of Tiffin. Washington, a Toledo native, had a long successful career. Ivory, a bruising running back, is still playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But a quarterback from a DII school? The most important position in all of sports cannot slide through the collegiate recruiting cracks, right? Kurt Warner certainly did at Northern Iowa. Warner won a ring with the Rams and has a good shot at being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Harvard’s Ryan Fitzpatrick was drafted in the seventh round in the 2005 NFL Draft and is still playing. The latest examples include Delaware’s Joe Flacco and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Flacco has had a tremendous career while Wentz just finished his rookie season. Each were drafted in the first round.
Pipkin has gained some significant buzz of late in part due to the dearth of quarterbacks in the NFL. Phil Savage, former NFL GM and current Executive Director of the Senior Bowl, leaves no stone unturned. Thus Pipkin will get his chance under the tutelage of Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The week will consist of practices culminating with the game being played on Saturday, Jan. 28.
In college, Pipkin was a four-year starter at Tiffin in the Air Raid system under the direction of Head Coach Gary Goff. Goff played and coached for the underappreciated Hal Mumme. Yes, that Hal Mumme. The same Hal Mumme who coached Tim Couch to astronomical numbers at Kentucky – which ultimately resulted in Couch being the number one selection in the 1999 draft by the Cleveland Browns.
When asked to describe Pipkin, Goff responded, “The moment I watched Pipkin’s recruiting film I realized he was a great quarterback and a perfect fit for the Air Raid offense.” Furthermore, Goff believes in not only Pipkin as a player but also as a person – “He has always been a student of the game and quick to understand how defenses were trying to defend him.”
Tiffin University supplied extensive film to study and I dug in. Pipkin’s physical attributes are NFL quality – 6’3”, 225 lbs., with a strong arm. He is a good athlete with very good vision. However, the most impressive pieces of his game are his ability to go through reads and impact the secondary with his eyes. His touch was also on display as was his movement in the pocket. This led to a successful career at Tiffin which included several broken records.
Before his travels to Mobile, I had an opportunity to speak with Pipkin regarding a variety of topics.
His journey to Tiffin isn’t unlike many other collegiate players. He believed he was attending Northern Illinois but a coaching change late in the recruiting process thwarted those plans. Instead, he arrived in Tiffin to play both basketball and football, eventually settling on football.
“It is a lot of fun to play in,” says Pipkin of Coach Goff’s Air Raid system. “It is definitely a lot different than a lot of others you see such as Texas Tech. They throw the ball probably twice as much as we do. Our system has a lot built into it – RTOs (read- throw options), progressions, reads which require understanding defenses. It isn’t a standard NFL offense but you learn a lot in this Air Raid system that will correlate to the next level.”
Asked about the Senior Bowl Invitation, Pipkin says, “I’ve been training with George Whitfield (renowned QB guru) for the past four years. We stay in touch during the season. I had a Bears scout, Jeff Shiver, come out to meet with me. We talked and watched film together. He really liked me. Later that afternoon I got a call from George stating Phil Savage contacted him about me being on the radar. He said they were going to get through the college football playoffs then evaluate if I was deserving of an invite. A week or so later Coach called me and told me I had an invite in the mail.”
“Whitfield has been incredible. When I got to college I was never the athlete playing quarterback. A lot of high schools put their best athlete at quarterback. I was never that guy. I wanted to be a quarterback – a student of the game – working on technique and things like that. Coming from an urban area there isn’t a lot of work like that. In college, I put a lot of time in but it was limited. Spending full days and weeks working on fine-tuning/engineering, where to find strength when throwing the ball,has been great. It is never really changing how you throw the ball, it is just fine-tuning and finding where you are most resourceful.”
“Oh, it is a great opportunity,” to be at the Senior Bowl and coached by Hue Jackson. “Any time you get the chance to work with an NFL coaching staff it is an awesome opportunity. It is going to be a great chance for me to show my board work and ability to read defenses, understand fronts and linebackers – nickels, dimes, dogs – everything a quarterback needs to know. This is an opportunity to showcase that I’m capable of playing at the next level. I’ll get classroom work and take that directly to the field. It is a great opportunity to work with an NFL coaching staff – especially a coach like Hue.”
“I’ve never been that quarterback who says I want to play like this person or model my game after this person. I’ve always kind of let my game pave the way for me – be my own guy – make my own name. One quarterback I definitely looked up to is Peyton Manning. He was my role model because of how he was a student of the game. That is what separates the good quarterbacks from the great quarterbacks. Learning everything you can about the game, about the offense you are playing, studying defenses, tendencies – things like that is what I think is the biggest asset. For me, from the neck up is what I bring to the table and it will correlate to the next level.
“I have not received a”n NFL Combine invite yet,” adds Pipkin. “Everyone from coaches to NFL GMs tell me it is expected that I will get one. Now that I’ve received a little buzz it is expected that I will get one. For now, I’m going to focus on the Senior Bowl and have fun.”
For videos of Antonio Pipkin follow Scott Dryden on Twitter @brownsscout and Instagram @brownsscout .
On Twitter you can follow Tiffin University @gotiffindragons , Coach Goff @coachGGoff , Color Commentator Matt Kibler @matt-radio and Antonio Pipkin @T-Pip2 .
Special thanks to Tiffin University, Coach Goff, Matt Kibler and Antonio Pipkin.
Practices of the Senior Bowl will be held from Jan. 24-26 where Pipkin will be on the South squad coached by the Cleveland Browns coaching staff. The NFL Network will be airing live coverage of practices for both squads. The game will be televised on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2:30 p.m., on the NFL Network.