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Knox, Manning led Bears to Super Bowl brink

A catch by Knox helped set up one of his team's two TDs in today's NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers
An article by Tom Osborn in the Jan. 21 issue of the Houston Chronicle helps tell one story Abilene Christian University head football coach Chris Thomsen would like all high school players he and his staff are recruiting the next two weeks to hear: you can get to the NFL from anywhere, especially Abilene.
Tuesday, Feb. 2, is the day high school football players sign letters of intent to attend the college of their choice this fall. Thomsen and his coaches are busy looking for players to re-stock his 11-1 Wildcats, who won the Lone Star Conference title in 2010 and with the right additions, could be poised for a sixth straight trip to the national playoffs in 2011.
Proof positive are two former Wildcats who helped lead the Chicago Bears to the NFC championship game today. Green Bay beat Chicago 21-14 to deny Danieal Manning and Johnny Knox a trip to the Super Bowl, but NCAA Division II football coaches everywhere this season are all smiles at their success.
Manning, a safety, and Knox, a wide receiver, are just two of several former Division II standouts who are thriving in the NFL. New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead (who ACU fans remember from a 2007 playoff game between ACU and his alma mater, Chadron State) is another who found the right team for his talents and had a standout year in 2010 after being released from the New York Jets and signed by the Patriots. Former ACU running back Bernard Scott finished his second year with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010, earning even more playing time in support of starter Cedric Benson.
Scott and Woodhead are former winners of the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of Division I’s Heisman Trophy as the best collegiate player.
According to, there are about 60 players on NFL rosters and practice squads from Division II backgrounds. ACU has sent more than 40 players to the NFL through the years, from Los Angeles Rams standout running back V.T. Smith (1948-53) to Philadelphia Eagles’ career rushing leader Wilbert Montgomery (1977-84), to Manning (who started for the Bears as a rookie in the 2007 Super Bowl) and Knox (who played in the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year).
ACU has two players from its 2010 team expected to draw interest in the NFL Draft: wide receiver Edmond Gates, who has been invited to play in the Feb. 5 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and offensive tackle Trevis Turner, who was Jim Langer Offensive Lineman of the Game in the 2011 Cactus Bowl and will play in the Feb. 5 NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) all-star game in the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Follow Feb. 2 signing day news for ACU football here.