I'd like to play in the NFL if the opportunity presents itself. I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen. —BYU offensive lineman Braden Brown
SAN DIEGO — More than two dozen BYU seniors will play the final games of their collegiate careers on Thursday when the Cougars face San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl.
One of them, defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah, is projected to be a first-round NFL Draft choice. Other seniors are also eyeing the draft.
"I'm going to keep training and playing as hard as I can," said offensive lineman Braden Brown. "I'd like to play in the NFL if the opportunity presents itself. I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen."
Brown has been invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 19 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Senior linebacker Uona Kaveinga has been invited to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Carson, Calif., on Jan. 19.
And perhaps a couple of juniors, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and wide receiver Cody Hoffman, could be playing in their final games as Cougars, too — if they decide to declare themselves eligible for the NFL Draft.
"BYU has been the surprise of the scouting community thus far in 2012," wrote Tony Pauline of SI.com back in October. "Entering the season with a pair of seniors graded as late-round picks, the Cougars now have three players who are considered top-90 selections. Besides Ezekiel Ansah … junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy presently grades as a second rounder and offensive lineman Braden Brown is receiving third-round consideration."
Linebacker Brandon Ogletree is also eyeing an NFL career.
"I'm going to start training as soon as the bowl is over," said Ogletree. "I'm going to try to get a look with (an NFL) team and see what happens. (Playing in the NFL) has not always been a goal. My goal was to play in college. This past couple of years, the feedback I've gotten is that I'll get a shot. I'm going to take it and see what happens."
Both Van Noy and Hoffman could opt to skip their senior seasons.
"I haven't really decided yet," Van Noy said. "I'm really just looking forward to the San Diego State game because I'll get to play with people that I won't play with forever. … Mostly (Ogletree), because I've been here the longest with him and I've been playing next to him. It's like playing with your older brother — he's annoying but he's cool."
PRACTICING IN THE RAIN: It rained most of the day in the San Diego area Tuesday. The Cougars were soaked after practicing in soggy conditions at Helix High.
But coach Bronco Mendenhall liked his team's mindset at practice. "It was good," he said. "Sharper and better than I thought (Monday) was."
There's no rain in the forecast for Thursday night's Poinsettia Bowl.
After practice, the Cougars visited the San Diego Zoo. On Wednesday morning, the Poinsettia Bowl will host a news conference at the Omni Hotel featuring Mendenhall and SDSU coach Rocky Long.
BYU will hold a fireside at the San Diego North Stake Center on Wednesday night.
WHITE AND BLUE:Leon White, a starting linebacker on BYU's 1984 national championship team, is an alum of Helix High, where the Cougars practiced this week.
White still lives in San Diego, but he won't be able to attend the Poinsettia Bowl.
"I'm so disappointed I can't go. I'll be out of town," he said. "It's going to be a good game against San Diego State. It will be a big challenge for BYU to stop their running game."
During his playing days, White enjoyed the frequent trips to his hometown for the Holiday Bowl.
"I enjoyed coming back home and playing in front of friends and family," White recalled. "That's something I remember coach (LaVell) Edwards telling me when I first signed at BYU. 'I'm going to give you a chance to get back to San Diego and play in some bowl games.' That was a big thing for me because I wanted to come back and play well."