On February 13th, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams will meet with everything on the line in Super Bowl LVI. In a battle headlined by former number 57th Super Bowl is sure to be quite the spectacle. However, to win the big game, it may take major contributions by players from small schools. Here are four names who came from the bottom but could come up on top this Sunday.
Cooper Kupp - Eastern Washington
Before he became one of the NFL's premier wideouts, Cooper Kupp was catching balls at Eastern Washington University. While with the Eagles, a member of the FCS's Big Sky Conference, Kupp racked up numerous accolades, including 30 first team All-American honors and the 2015 Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding player in FCS football. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the four-year collegian was picked in Round 3 by the Los Angeles Rams, the second-highest selection in Eastern Washington history.
Kupp began his NFL career as a promising wide receiver on a dynamic offense, reaching the Super Bowl with the Rams in 2018. However, it took the arrival of Matt Stafford at quarterback last offseason to elevate Kupp from safety blanket to superstar. With the former Detroit Lion in town, Kupp saw his reception yardage more than double en route to NFL single-season records of 1,947 yards and 159 catches in addition to 16 touchdowns. With the lights shining bright on his home turf of Los Angeles, expect this former EWU star snag a touchdown or two before the night ends.
Trey Hendrickson - Florida Atlantic
Of all the reasons for the Bengals' turnaround from cellar-dweller to contender this season, a one-year jump from last in team sacks to 12th may be the most important. Key free agent signing Trey Hendrickson, brought over from New Orleans on a four-year, $60 million dollar deal last offseason, has been the biggest piece of the puzzle on the defensive line, notching 14.5 regular season sacks and earning a Pro Bowl nod. In the postseason, Hendrickson's game has reached another level, carrying a Bengals unit surrendering under 20 points per game in their last three contests.
Prior to his ascension to one of the league's most underrated pass-rushers, Hendrickson was a four-year sack specialist at Florida Atlantic. While playing in Boca Raton, Trey notched 29.5 sacks and 41 tackles for loss over 36 games. Unlike many small-school seniors, Hendrickson actually found his stock rising once he left FAU. He earned defensive player of the game honors at the 2017 East-West Shrine Bowl and was selected in the third round by the New Orleans Saints later that year. Now in Cincinnati, on the verge of playing in the biggest game of his life, look for Hendrickson to continue creating chaos in the backfield.
Troy Reeder - Delaware
Back in Los Angeles, Troy Reeder has quietly been making waves at linebacker for years. The Delaware native transferred to his home school from Penn State as a junior and immediately made an impact on the FCS program, racking up 89 tackles as a redshirt junior. Reeder followed that season up with a 131-tackle senior campaign before going pro.
Reeder went undrafted in 2019, signing with L.A. as a free agent and playing his way onto the active roster in the preseason. Primarily a special teams contributor to start his career, Reeder began to earn trust from Rams head coach Sean McVay when placed into a starting role during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. It wasn't until 2021 where he really began to break out, recording 91 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, and starting ten games. As the Super Bowl approaches, this unlikely small-school star will be representing his home state with pride.