If there’s one player who might keep Michael Sam from making the St. Louis Rams’ roster, it’s Ethan Westbrooks .
Westbrooks, who played at Franklin High School and Sacramento City College, was unheralded and undrafted last spring as a small-college rush-end specialist out of West Texas A&M.
He’s not nearly as recognized as Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL who draws a media crowd everywhere he goes, but he has what NFL coaches crave: an uncanny knack to get to the passer.
Westbrooks and Sam, a seventh-round selection out of Missouri, have been impressive in preseason games, but it’s unlikely both will make the 53-man roster. One could wind up on the Rams’ practice squad or with another team.
During Thursday’s 14-13 loss to the Dolphins, Westbrooks had four tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits. Sam had a team-high six tackles.
Westbrooks, 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, was an all-conference player at Sac City before going to Division II West Texas A&M, where he had 19 1/2 sacks in 2012 and 191/2 tackles for a loss in 2013.
Westbrooks had two sacks in the East-West Shrine Game watched by a horde of NFL scouts, showing he could get around tackles from high-profile Division I programs.
The Rams signed Westbrooks as a free agent, a $30,000 guaranteed deal with a $20,000 bonus, a pittance in the billion-dollar enterprise that is the NFL.
“It’s always harder to go from junior college to Division II and then to the NFL because you never really play against what people think is the best competition,” Westbrooks told Fox Sports Midwest. “Over the years, I felt Division I is just a name. People assume that everybody there is just the best of the best. You soon find out some of those dudes shouldn’t be playing. I know you can definitely come out of Division II, whether you spend two years or four years. It’s really how hard you want it.”
Season debuts• Tyler Winston (Antelope) and Brandon Monroe (Del Oro) stood out in San Jose State’s opener Thursday, a 42-10 rout of visiting North Dakota.
Winston, a sophomore wide receiver, caught two touchdown passes. Monroe, The Bee’s Player of the Year in 2012, scored on a 2-yard run and showed his strength and speed at 6-1 and 220 pounds. He’s a converted linebacker who was slowed in the spring with a shoulder injury.
“He can run people over, get that extra couple of yards, and he’s ideal down there (near the goal line),” San Jose State coach Ron Caragher told the media when asked about Monroe after the victory. “It was nice to see him get in the end zone.”• Steven Moore (Elk Grove) and Harrison Wilfley (Casa Roble, American River College) will start today for Cal at Northwestern as the Bears aim to erase the memory of last year’s dismal 1-11 record. Moore is an offensive left tackle and Wilfley is a defensive tackle.
• Cal Poly had three Sacramento-area players in the starting lineup Thursday in Las Cruces, N.M., where the Mustangs lost their season opener to New Mexico State 28-10.
Stephen Sippel (Folsom) is the center, Marcus Paige-Allen (Sheldon) plays defensive tackle and Josh Letuligasenoa (Elk Grove) is a defensive end who had 11 tackles. Letuligasenoa is the second of three brothers to play for Cal Poly, following Lefi , a lineman now on the Mustangs’ coaching staff, and freshman Noah , a Bee All-Metro player last fall.
Also for Cal Poly, Dano Graves (Folsom) got some snaps at quarterback, Burton De Koning (Folsom) at linebacker and Tu’uta Inoke (Burbank) at linebacker-safety.• Devontae Booker (Grant, American River College) rushed for 79 yards on 10 carries and scored on runs of 38 and 4 yards in Utah’s 56-14 rout of visiting Idaho State on Thursday. The junior also had a 61-yard catch and run down to the goal line.
• Washington State receiver Vince Mayle (Inderkum, Sierra College) had a career-high 12 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown, his eighth with the Cougars, in a 41-38 loss to Rutgers on Thursday in Seattle. Freshman receiver Calvin Green (Burbank) made his Washington State debut with two catches for 6 yards.
• Solomone Kafu (Rio Linda) is a returning starter on the offensive line for BYU.
• Sophomore Tanner Vallejo (Nevada Union) is a second-year starting linebacker for Boise State.
• Cody Galea (Franklin) is a returning starter at linebacker for San Diego State.