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Local players step up at Shrine practices


Texas is a renowned hotbed for high school football, so it makes sense that a good number of players have come back to their hometown of Houston to play in an all-star event like the East-West Shrine Game.

Headlining the group is Michael Bennett, a 6-4, 261-pound defensive end out of Texas A&M. Bennett was a star under the Friday night lights at Alief. Now, he is trying to show pro scouts that he has the quickness to threaten NFL tackles off the edge and the strength to move inside and plug the middle.

"It feels good to be out here playing in front of my home crowd and a lot of my friends from different schools," Bennett said. "I'm just trying to prove my pass rushing and run stopping and that I am able to work with different players and learn different schemes."

{QUOTE}It helps his draft stock that his brother, tight end Martellus Bennett, was a second-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys in last year's draft. Michael said he thinks he can grade out to be a first-day prospect.

"Hopefully, I will," he said. "That's where all the mock drafts have me right now."

Army fullback Collin Mooney (5-10, 247) has been greeted by a slew of familiar faces, starting with the East head coach, Bobby Ross, who coached Mooney for two years at West Point before retiring in 2006.

"It's cool to play for him again," Mooney said. "I played for him for two years at Army. To play for him again, it's exciting and it's a good experience.

"Being in an all-star game is fun. Being that it's in my hometown makes it even more fun, so I'm having a great time."

Mooney became Army's single-season career rushing leader with 1,339 yards rushing last season. He may not have pro height, but one scout said that Mooney is a hardnosed player with all the intangibles to succeed on the next level.

"I'm not a big talker," Mooney said. "I try to lead more by example by how I play and not what I say. I'm a hard runner, a hard blocker and I'm going to go hard every play."

Duke All-America linebacker Michael Tauiliili has a large crowd of local supporters cheering him on at practice, most especially his mother.

"It's unbelievable," Tauiliili said. "When I got the news that the East-West game would be in Houston and I got the call that I would be invited, the first person I called was my mother. She sent out e-mails, phone calls. So it's just a great feeling coming home to play in front of everybody."

Tauiliili led the ACC in tackles with 140 and recorded four interceptions and 13 tackles for loss last season.

"I'm very vocal on the field," he said. "I use my mental preparation to my advantage. As long as I know what's going on, I used that to communicate to the rest of the defense. Especially being the middle linebacker, that's my responsibility. And once the ball is snapped, I just fly to the ball.

"I just want to prove that my height is not a disadvantage. I actually use it to my betterment for defensive purposes and I can play with the best."

Running back Javarris Williams (5-11, 220) returned to the Houston area after playing at Tennessee State. Last season, Williams ran for 1,037 yards and a league-best 15 rushing touchdowns in 10 games.

"Going to Tennessee State, there are a lot of guys here from bigger schools," Williams said. "So I'm coming out here to showcase my talent against these guys. They're great. If I can do well with them, I can show them that I can play on their level."

Rounding out the local group is another ball carrier, Aaron Brown. The 6-1, 196-pound running back out of TCU is slight, but he wants to show that he has the speed and athleticism to excel at several positions.

"I'm a utility player, a player who can do versatile things like kick return and punt return," Brown said. "Honestly, I just want to get into this league. Football has been a part of my life for so long. I just want to be a part of it. I'll be a running back, a slot receiver, anything just to make a name for myself wherever that may be.

Notes: ESPN college football insider Todd McShay attended Wednesday's Shrine Game practices to evaluate talent.

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