FLORENCE — It was a cold Wednesday morning with the wind relentlessly adding to the chill at Braly Municipal Stadium.
This wasn't Florida weather, but Jabez Mitchem couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else.
Mitchem, a former University of Central Florida tight end, was going through drills at the ProGrass International Scout Bowl combine — the term referring to testing the player's abilities and skills — and was just enjoying being around his favorite sport.
"When I first heard about this game, I knew I wanted to be here," he said. "This is my one shot."
The game features college football players who might have flown under the radar and are seeking a last chance to show off for professional scouts.
Organizers said the game will feature 81 players from across the nation, as well as India, Poland, Canada, Belgium, South Africa, The Netherlands and Mexico.
The event includes combines and practices this week leading up to the 7 p.m. kickoff Friday.
"I really want to have fun and enjoy the experience," Mitchem said.
Standing alongside him was Michael Bowman, a former University of Alabama wide receiver who hopes scouts notice him, but also is interested in playing and winning Friday.
"I came out here to play with these very good athletes," said Bowman, who will join Mitchem on the South team. "We hope to win."
William Hollis also has high hopes, after a college career that included stints at several locations that were interrupted by difficult circumstances.
Early in his college career, Hollis put football off for a while after a series of disasters.
What would have been the joyous occasion of his daughter's birth was shaken the next day when it was discovered his daughter's mother was paralyzed, said Hollis, who played linebacker and defensive end.
He quit football and got a job in security at a hospital to be near them.
"I had to give football up to be a man and take care of my family," he said.
Hollis also was worried about his mother, who still lived in his native Pontiac, Mich., and had drug problems.
His mother died from an overdose. Hollis said he contemplated suicide, going so far as to place a gun against his head. But he decided he had to be there to take care of his daughter and others, and threw the gun in a nearby lake.
Hollis said he has turned himself around and today is married, put himself through intensive physical training and hopes to get recognized this week.
"I really believe I could do something special in this game," he said. "I've been the underdog. I might want it more than these others here because of what I've gone through. Life is hard; football is easy."
The Collegiate Development Football League partnered with ProGrass, a maker of synthetic turf, and EUROstopwatch to sponsor the game.
Game organizers also are giving it a bowl-game feel by including various events leading up to the game.
Players will take part in Reading Initiative programs today at Hibbett Middle School in Florence and Threadgill Primary School in Sheffield.
That is followed by a lunchtime news conference at Buffalo Wild Wings on Florence Boulevard, and a team banquet tonight at the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum.
Players are surrounded by coaches and scouts who are there to help and find out if there are some future professional players on the field.
John Luckhardt, former coach at Division II's California University of Pennsylvania, is among coaches volunteering for the event. He said scouts look for indications of speed and explosiveness during combines.
Luckhardt said National Football League coaches and scouts understand a player is a major investment. The minimum salary is $480,000, so team officials take great efforts when evaluating a prospect.
Combines include weight lifting, sprints, jumping and agility tests. Height, arm reach and weight are evaluated according to the player's position. That doesn't count seeing what a player actually can do in pads during practice.
"They examine everything under the sun, because they can't afford to make a mistake," he said. "They've made it a science."
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.