Radtke and 4 others begin climb out of Division III
The All-Star game gives the linebacker a shot at the big boys
Before last month, Lenny Radtke's college football career rarely took him very far from his family's home in Carol Stream, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. He played for Division III North Central College in nearby Naperville and most road games consisted of a bus ride to nowhere farther than Wisconsin or downstate Illinois.
Who: 60th edition of college football all-star game, with teams representing East and West
Where: Aloha Stadium
When: 2 p.m. today
TV: ESPN2, live
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM, in progress after Hawaii women's basketball game
But in the past few weeks, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound outside linebacker has found himself saying hola to Mexico and aloha to Hawaii.
Radtke, who intercepted a pass for a touchdown in the Aztec Bowl in Mexico in December, will suit up for the East team at Aloha Stadium in today's Hula Bowl. Around 10,000 tickets had been distributed by late yesterday.
The Aztec Bowl matches Division III all-stars from the United States against Mexican college stars. The U.S. team won 53-15 last December in Toluca, Mexico, as Radtke made four tackles for loss for an Aztec Bowl record.
The competition level today is a step up for Radtke and the four other Division III standouts in the Hula Bowl.
"It took me a day to get used to the speed, but I definitely think I'm capable of playing with them," Radtke said. "This is just awesome, getting treated like a Division I player, signing autographs, posing for pictures. These guys are used to it, I'm not."
Radtke is used to collisions. He led North Central to a 9-2 record and first-ever playoff appearance with 162 tackles in 11 games. He hopes that kind of dominance -- coupled with a good showing at practices this week and in today's game -- gets him a shot at the NFL.
"It's always been a dream of mine and I always thought I could accomplish it. But I never knew if I would get the chance. I'm kind of getting it now," said Radtke, who has drawn some attention from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He knows he probably won't be drafted, but promises to be a tough cut for any team that picks him up as a free agent.
"I think I'm one of those 'tweeners," said Radtke, who weighed 175 pounds coming out of high school. "Small for a linebacker, slow for a safety. "But I have the love for the game, work hard and have great instincts. That's what got me this far. I know where the ball's going and how to get there."
East head coach Tommy Tuberville has been impressed by Radtke.
"Radtke is doing great," Tuberville said. "This is what the Hula Bowl is all about. ... It truly gives players from smaller colleges a chance to ... compare their skills against the upper-level colleges. Radtke has been holding his own, and is able to compete directly against the other players."
Linfield quarterback Brett Elliott (recipient of the Gagliardi Trophy, awarded annually to the outstanding player in Division III), Ohio Northern defensive back/kick returner Wes Hostetler, Occidental safety Derek Turbin (a Punahou graduate) and Wisconsin-Oshkosh tight end Bob Docherty are the other Division III players hoping to make their marks today.
Hostetler was the MVP of the Aztec Bowl with three touchdowns -- one each by kick, punt and interception return.