Drew Himmelman invited to East West Shrine Bowl

by Claudia Loucks correspondent


In college football, the Power Five conferences are five athletic conferences which are considered to be the elite in collegiate football in the United State. They are part of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of NCAA Division I, the highest level of collegiate football in the nation.

Selection to the East West Shrine Bowl – Online answer: “Players are selected based on their potential to make NFL rosters. However, exceptions are made to ensure that the best 100 players are selected for the game, regardless of the location of their school. All divisions are considered.”

Drew Himmelman in action during practice in August at Hancock Stadium at Illinois State University.
Drew Himmelman

Drew Himmelman, a key player on the Illinois State Redbirds Football squad, has received an invitation to the East West Shrine Bowl, but he won’t be playing because that game won’t be happening due to the current pandemic.

Himmelman, son of Scott and Angela Himmelman, Geneseo, and a senior All-American left tackle with the Redbirds, said the game is usually held in St. Petersburg, FL….”Unfortunately, this year the game is cancelled due to the pandemic. The Shrine Bowl is still putting on a virtual event for us though, where I believe we will be having Zoom meetings with NFL personnel and ex-players.”

“It’s a great honor (to be invited to play in the Shrine Bowl),” he said. “Over the past four years I have had a few teammates form ISU play in the Shrine Bowl, so I knew it was possible for people from our program to make it. I never really envisioned myself being one of those people though, which made it even cooler to get the invite.”

Himmelman, who now stands at 6’10” and weighs 320 pounds, graduated from Geneseo High School in 2015 and in high school, he was successful in both football and basketball.

When asked what made him choose to play college football over basketball, he said, “While I really enjoyed basketball, I think it came down to the fact that I just enjoyed football a little bit more,” he said. “That and I thought I could be a better college football player than I could a college basketball player.”

In addition to gaining 100 pounds since high school, Himmelman also underwent the journey from greyshirt to redshirt to starter to All-American and NFL prospect with the Redbirds.

This correspondent had to ask about being a “greyshirt,” and Himmelman explained, “At the beginning when Coach Spack (ISU head football coach) told me about greyshirting, I was not too keen on it. But I did what I’ve always done, I put faith in my coaches, and it’s definitely turned out to be the right decision for me.”

Greyshirting is the process of having a player wait to enroll until the spring semester of their first year. The player is then allowed to go through spring practice with his college team, redshirt the next season and then begin a four-year playing career.

Himmelman redshirted at ISU in 2016 and has been a starter in 35 games at left tackle in addition to earning All-Missouri Conference and All-American first team honors in 2019. He is a consensus preseason All-American for the 2020 season that has been delayed until 2021 because of COVID-19.

When asked about football in the midst of the pandemic, Himmelman said, “It has been tough for sure. We came into fall camp still having our season scheduled, and after about a week, we learned that we would be playing the spring instead. So, this fall we went through normal offseason workouts, position drills and ‘spring’ ball. The pandemic has made our schedule very fluid. It has also added several new safety protocols to our day-to-day such as temperature screenings and wearing masks at all times.”

“I am still eligible for next year’s football season, but this spring season will be my last one regardless,” he said. “I will graduate with my Master’s Degree this spring, so there really isn’t a reason for me to go back next fall outside of football. Next fall, I will be giving the NFL a shot, and if that doesn’t work out I will go to physical therapy school somewhere and hopefully begin my journey toward a career as a PT.”

When Geneseo High School Principal Travis Mackey learned that Himmelman had been invited to the East West Shrine Bowl, he said, “I am not surprised to see Drew Himmelman selected for the East West Shrine Game. He has worked very hard on the craft and even when he was in high school, you could tell that he had skills and was very flexible for a big man. He’s grown into his size and he’s become a real force at the collegiate level.”

The popularity of Geneseo football is not a secret so when asked how he thought Geneseo football prepared him for college football, Himmelman answered, “I think that Geneseo Football does a fantastic job teaching its players intangible skills, and that helped me a lot in my transition to college football. College programs are going to get you bigger, stronger, and faster regardless. If you can come into college with skills such as adaptability, teamwork, and accountability, the transition to the next level is going to be a lot smoother. I am very thankful that the coaches at Geneseo do such a great job at this.”

Geneseo High School head varsity football coach Larry Johnsen praised Himmelman’s work ethics and said, “Drew has really worked hard and may get the opportunity to prove himself at the highest level of football. All it takes is one team to give him a chance. Drew obviously has the measurables to have the NFL look at him. Once they interview him, they will find out how good of a person he is and that he has very high football IQ.”

“He had the ability, but he was a ‘late bloomer’ and people weren’t sure how he was going to end up,” Johnsen said.

That “blooming” wasn’t just on the football field. Himmelman excelled in the classroom as well as on the football field and has been named one of 12 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy, presented annually by the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame to the top scholar-athlete in college football.

Himmelman was chosen from a group of 199 semifinalists representing the sport’s top student-athletes from among all NCAA divisions and the NAIA. Each of the 12 finalists will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the 2020 National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Class and later this year, one member of the class will be chosen to receive the William V. Campbell Trophy and receive an additional $7,000 postgraduate scholarship. To be eligible for the honor, players must be nominated by their school, be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, maintain a grade-point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability and demonstrate strong leadership and citizenship.

Himmelman currently has a 4.0 grade point average as a graduate student in kinesiology.

IN A SIDE STORY: These comments impressed me most of all.

Tyler Mackey and Drew Himmelman have been friends since childhood and continue to stay in close contact, so I asked Tyler Mackey to comment on the success of his friend. His answer:

“Drew and I became friends in elementary school when we played on the same travel baseball team,” Mackey said. “We had a big friend group that would hang out together most weekends. Most of us played sports together so we were constantly together.”

Their parents, Travis and Kris Mackey, and Scott and Angela Himmelman, were friends too, which also added to their friendship…”In high school, we bonded a lot since we played on all three sports together – football, basketball and baseball,” Mackey said.

“We all knew Drew had a lot of potential when it came to sports,” he said. “We were obviously biased and thought he should be receiving more interest from schools, but ultimately Illinois State turned out to be the best school for Drew.”

Mackey commented about Himmelman and getting attention and said, “I hate attention, but I think the only other person that hates it more is Drew. He’s as humble and genuine as they come….Whether football works or not I think we all know that Drew will be successful. He’s also a finalist for the Campbell Trophy which is considered the Academic Heisman. Playing college sports is obviously tough, but to be able to perform in the classroom as well, as Drew has done is really a testament to his work ethic and dedication.”