Legends Of Lehigh
Looking Back At Birds Summer All-Stars
As Eagles training camp nears, it’s become habitual for me to retrospectively recall the unbridled intensity of the two-a-day practices of the old guard, under the unrelenting sun that beamed down on Lehigh University’s Goodman Campus.
From 1999-2012, under head coach Andy Reid, the Eagles migrated off campus for training camp, traveling up the Northeast Extension to the isolated confines of Lehigh University, where team camaraderie was established, relationships were fostered, and a 53-man roster was assembled.
While many of the training camp standouts from that era of Eagles football have since faded into relative obscurity, in the spirit of nostalgia I’ve compiled my list of All-Lehigh offensive selections at each position.
Quarterback: A.J. Feeley
The Eagles coaxed a lot of mileage out from Feeley, who they drafted in 2001 as a fifth-round selection from Oregon. Whether he was connecting with wide receiver Dameane Douglas for a pair of touchdowns to bring the Eagles back from a 10-point deficit in the 2001 season finale against Tampa Bay, or navigating the Eagles to four straight wins while maintaining the No. 1 seed in the playoffs the following season to replace injured quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Koy Detmer, Feeley delivered in critical moments.
Before he achieved folk hero status in Philadelphia, however, Feeley mired in relative anonymity on the practice fields of Goodman Campus, orchestrating a third-team offense consisting of running back Rod Smart, wide receivers Douglas, Na Brown and Gari Scott, and former Penn State tight end Tony Stewart. Still, Feeley showcased enough promise to stick as the No. 3 quarterback as a rookie, and went on to appear in 12 games (seven starts) throughout his three stints with Philadelphia.
Running Back: Lorenzo Booker
In 2008, Booker, who was traded to the Eagles that spring for a fourth-round pick, was viewed as a savvy addition to a short-handed backfield that was expected to lose veteran Correll Buckhalter to free agency the following offseason. Booker, a former Florida State standout who Reid attempted to make a play for in the 2007 draft, came to Philadelphia with little tread on his tires on the heels of a relatively uneventful rookie season with the Dolphins.
During the summer of 2008, it was almost impossible to find a practice session in which Booker failed to impress the crowds. The diminutive runner would routinely win 1-on-1 matchups in the passing game, elude defenders in the open field, and exhibit signs of becoming the explosive home-run hitter that the offense sorely needly to complement Brian Westbrook. But like so many Lehigh Legends, when the calendar turned to September, Booker reverted into the proverbial pumpkin, rushing for just 53 yards on 20 carries and yielding six receptions for 11 yards in 10 games (one start). Booker was ultimately waived during final cuts the following season.
Fullback: Josh Parry
Originally, Parry joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent linebacker in the 2001 spring, and the San Jose State product failed to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster in consecutive training camps before ultimately converting to fullback during the 2003 offseason. Though Parry again didn’t make the roster, he was retained on the practice squad to begin the season and signed to the active roster three weeks later to replace an injured Jon Ritchie. Parry parlayed his perseverance into a three-year career, appearing in 37 games (15 starts) – including Super Bowl XXXIX – with the Eagles and with the Seahawks.
Wide Receiver: Na Brown
Known for his acrobatic catches and frequent 1-on-1 victories during the first three summers of Andy Reid’s tenure as Eagles head coach, Brown will forever be remembered as a “Lehigh Legend” whose summer success never translated to regular season production. Despite the optimism surrounding Brown, a 1999 fourth-round pick out of North Carolina, the six-foot, 196-pound wideout never amounted to more than a seldom-used fringe receiver, appearing in 42 games (nine starts) and corralling nine receptions for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns across three seasons. Brown was among the early cuts in 2002 and never garnered another opportunity at the pro level. The former Tar Heel played two seasons in the Arena Football League with the Orlando Predators (2002-03) and last surfaced nine years ago in the short-lived Ultimate Indoor Football League.
Wide Receiver: Gari Scott
Drawing parallels to Brown, Scott joined the Eagles in 2000 as a fourth-round pick from Michigan State. In spite of playing second fiddle to Plaxico Burress at the collegiate level, the speedy Scott managed 134 receptions for 2,095 yards and 18 touchdowns during his Spartans career. Buried on the depth chart in Philadelphia despite an eye-opening training camp, Scott spent his rookie season as a weekly inactive and appeared in just three games the following season, tallying two receptions for 26 yards. After the 2001 season, Scott never played another down in the NFL.
Wide Receiver: Michael Gasperson
I will never understand why Gasperson was never converted into a tight end earlier in his career, but that’s irrelevant. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver – fresh off of a three-year career at San Diego under Jim Harbaugh that included 116 receptions for 1,894 yards and 17 touchdowns – was originally a late addition to the Eagles training camp roster in the summer of 2005 after going undrafted months earlier. While Gasperson’s imposing size and physicality allowed him to win many contested-catch situations, and while he offered some special teams upside, his speed deficiency and overall team depth at his position kept him buried on the practice squad – until Dec. 19, 2007. For the better part of three seasons, Gasperson had flirted with the active roster, and in a Week 16 game against the New Orleans Saints, he finally got his opportunity, albeit short-lived. Quarterback Donovan McNabb looked to Gasperson in the flat at one point, only to see what should have been an easy completion bounce off Gasperson’s hands. His opportunities – and essentially his career – ended there, in the Superdome.
Wide Receiver: Bill Sampy
The former Ragin’ Cajun was an Eagles favorite who possessed terrific short-area quickness, route-running prowess, and open-field explosiveness but battled injuries and inconsistency during his three summers at Lehigh (2006-08). The 5-foot-11, 192-pound receiver totaled 155 catches for 1,988 yards and nine touchdowns during his four seasons at Louisiana and occasionally flashed on the Eagles’ practice field, reminding the Lehigh faithful why the Eagles kept him around on the practice squad for two seasons. Sampy garnered a three-year contract following the 2007 season but suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle in mini-camp that required surgery.
Tight End: Stephen Spach/Andy Thorn
Around this time 17 years ago, the Eagles needed to fill a vacancy behind tight end L.J. Smith. Veteran James Whalen was added in free agency to compete for the role behind Smith, and Spach and Thorn were later signed as undrafted free agents. Whalen quickly became an afterthought while the jostle between Spach and Thorn highlighted the roster battles that summer. Thorn (6-5, 250) was the more natural pass catcher of the two undrafted hopefuls, while the dreadlocks-donning Spach (6-4, 250) provided third phase upside, versatility, and superior blocking. Spach made the Eagles’ 53-man roster as a tight end/H-back while Thorn landed on the practice squad for the duration of the 2005 season. Both Spach and Thorn failed to make the team the following summer. Spach appeared in 60 games (24 starts) in seven seasons and Thorn appeared in one game with Dallas in 2006.
Left Tackle: King Dunlap
There aren’t many memorable fringe left tackles in Lehigh lore, so we’ll go with “The King” here. Dunlap, a 2008 seventh-round pick from Auburn, drew intrigue from Day 1 as a result of his hulking, 6-foot-9, 330-pound frame. He carved out a five-year career in Philadelphia and four-year career in San Diego, respectively. The mammoth-sized blindside protector would frequently partake in training camp fisticuffs and struggled with consistency, particularly as a run blocker, but went on to appear in 98 career games (65 starts). Not too shabby.
Left Guard: Scott Young
Young will forever remain infamous – to those Eagles fans who still remember him – for his egregious false start that wiped away a first-down completion to Hank Baskett in the waning moments of the 2006 Wild Card matchup against the Saints, but early on, the BYU product appeared to be a capable reserve who possessed a strong base and played with an all-important mean streak. The 6-foot-4, 312-pound guard lasted three seasons in Philadelphia before moving onto the Browns in 2008. He announced his retirement from the NFL on April 16, 2009.
Center: Alonzo Ephraim
Jamaal Jackson certainly deserves mention here, as his journey from undrafted free agent to 72-game starter is nothing short of remarkable and a testament to steadfast determination and hard work, but for this exercise I went the obscure route. Ephraim, you may recall, was part of the decorated 2003 crops of undrafted free agents that made the Eagles 53-man roster, including Greg Lewis, Rod Hood, Quintin Mikell, Reno Mahe, and Sam Rayburn. The former Alabama lineman played in 30 games (two starts) over two seasons with the Eagles and played his final season with the Dolphins in 2005 at 24.
Eagles training camp at Lehigh allowed fans to interact closely with Eagles players, coaches.
Right Guard: Bobbie Williams
Williams is an interesting case, as the former Razorbacks lineman was selected as the Eagles’ second-round pick (61st overall) in 2000 and was often overlooked by his more highly heralded linemates in Philadelphia, including Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Jermaine Mayberry, and John Welbourn. The 6-foot-4, 345-pound mauler led a 13-year pro career, appearing in 164 games (136 starts) with the Eagles, Bengals, and Ravens.
Right Tackle: Pat McCoy
McCoy (6-5, 333), an undrafted free agent signing in 2006, defied long odds to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster out of training camp, though his brief tenure in Philadelphia lasted all of one season. The West Texas A&M product spent the following two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, which proved to be his final opportunity.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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