As the NFL Draft draws closer with the event just about a month away, it is time to start taking a historical look at the draft, with a focus on the best products to ever play in the Great American Conference, land of some yearly D2 contenders, and some extraordinary talent that reached the pro level.
The five former stars we have listed may not have been drafted when they were coming out of school, but they turned themselves into great stars at the NFL level either through playing — or in some cases — coaching.
Take a look at the greats the GAC has offered the NFL, and be sure to check back for all the NFL Draft coverage you need here at HERO Sports.
5. Patrick Crayton, WR — Northwestern Oklahoma State
Starting our countdown is the most recent player to have grand success in the NFL ranks with the Cowboys during their runs in the mid-to-late 2000's.
While the career numbers for Crayton will never stand out amongst the greatest to ever step onto an NFL field — 3,650 yards and 25 scores — he was a respectable threat as a second or third option behind the likes of Terrell Owens. NW OSU has had a few talented players reach the pros, but none with recent grandeur such as the former weapon for young Tony Romo.
4. Rob Ryan, Coach — Southwestern Oklahoma State
One of the more polarizing coaches in the NFL today, Rob Ryan has made a mark wherever he lands with at least one year of dominant play for his defenses, and then a sudden drop that leads to change.
But before the lesser-known of the Ryan twins began his career as a coach, he was a linebacker at SW Oklahoma in the early 80's. Ryan was never able to see the field as a starter though, instead focusing his talents to better the starters on the scout team. Giving up his playing career following his second year in school, Ryan moved on to coaching and the rest has been history.
Who wouldv'e thought that one of the most overlooked minds in the current NFL was also overlooked for his playing abilities, forcing him to D2?
3. Roy Green, WR — Henderson State
A dynamic play maker for the Cardinals and Eagles in his career, Green was at the height of his game in 1984 when he led the league with 1,555 receiving yards, a mark that ranked third at the time for most in a single year.
Besides his high mark during the mid-80's, Green had two other seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards in 1983 and 88. An even more interesting factoid about the former Reddie was that he was part of the transition from St. Louis to Phoenix for the Cardinals before the 1988 season. While his name may not come up in conversation often, Cardinal fans should definitely hold Green in high regard for his efforts when the team was anything but a contender.
2. Rex Ryan, Coach — Southwestern Oklahoma State
You didn't think we could talk about one Ryan twin without seeing the other did you? Well the more notable — and more comical — Ryan brother came from similar beginnings as Rob did as a linebacker for the Bulldogs.
But Rex gave up his playing career as well, and turned to coaching. In this case though, the turn has been much more fulfilling, culminating in multiple playoff berths and numerous honors for a coach widely seen as the most polarizing figure in the NFL's last decade or more.
Coaching for the more prominent Ryan brother has hit a snag though, and his career has now led him to sign on at ESPN for a role on pre-game shows. But due to his knowledge of the game and ability to sell tickets, do not be surprised to see this former D2 alum make it back to the ranks of head coach soon.
1. Mark Gastineau, DL — East Central
Mark Gastineau at East Central (Photo: Great American Conference)
Of any pass-rusher to come from the ranks of D2, Gastineau is likely the most famous, and most deserving of a nod into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The former Jets star set the single-season sacks mark back in 1984 while with the Jets, totaling 22.0 sacks and seeing his record stand for 18 years prior to Michael Strahan breaking it thanks to a gimme sack from Brett Favre. Along with his record-setting season, Gastineau also had years of 19.0 sacks and 13.5 sacks sandwiched around his 1984 season, giving him 54.5 in the span of three seasons.
One of the greatest Jets to ever hit the field, Gastineau is now in a battle against Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and dementia due to his rough playing style and many hits to the head. While this is an unfortunate turn for such a great player, let us not forget that Gastineau is one of the best to ever rush the quarterback, and that it all started at the D2 level at East Central.