The unofficial theme of Friday night’s Lowsman Trophy Banquet was “a house divided,” and it was easy to understand why.
Irrelevant Week creator Paul Salata, who attended Friday’s banquet and is now 92 years old, played receiver at USC. For the first time, a Mr. Irrelevant came from rival UCLA in the form of tight end Caleb Wilson, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the 254th — last — pick in the seventh round.
The 44th annual Irrelevant Week, which celebrates the final pick in the NFL Draft, kicked off with the banquet at the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach.
Even Wilson is a bit conflicted. He was a preferred walk-on at USC as a freshman before transferring to UCLA. But he definitely considers himself a Bruin now.
“We finally have a UCLA guy for Mr. Irrelevant,” Lowsman Banquet emcee John Ireland, a Corona del Mar High graduate who also went to college in Westwood, told the crowd. “I’ve waited many years for this.”
Wilson was roasted and celebrated by a variety of former Bruins and Trojans on Friday night, including former quarterbacks from each school, Paul MacDonald (USC) and John Sciarra (UCLA). Former NFL offensive tackle and actor Matt Willig, a longtime supporter of Irrelevant Week, gave Wilson some advice.
“Work your [behind] off,” said Willig, who had a 14-year NFL career. “Always be the last guy on the field, ask the last question. It will help you.”
Scott Altenberg, Wilson’s former coach at Serra High in Gardena, had good things to say about his former player, who he converted from quarterback. In one of a variety of games played on stage and moderated by Ireland, a blindfolded Wilson had to throw miniature footballs into a bag held by Altenberg on stage.
Wilson hit the target on all 16 throws before being honored by his father Chris, and finally being presented the Lowsman Trophy by Sam “Bam” Cunningham, a fullback who was a member of USC’s 1972 national championship team.
Wilson seemed to be enjoying himself. His mom Tina and sister Colby, who plays soccer at Eastern Washington University, are among 18 family members taking part in the Irrelevant Week festivities with Caleb.
Earlier Friday he got to meet his favorite basketball player, Kobe Bryant. The Irrelevant Week team set it up for Wilson to unknowingly attend a club basketball practice for Bryant’s daughter Gianna at Sage Hill School. After the practice, Wilson got to meet the “Black Mamba.”
“They hooked that up,” Wilson said. “I guess they asked my mom who my favorite player was … it was awesome. I hooped in high school, I hooped in AAU growing up as a kid. Kobe Bryant was my favorite player growing up as a kid, so that was pretty neat to meet him.”
Though Wilson went to both high school and college in Southern California, he moved around a lot as a kid since his father coached for several college football programs. Chris was the defensive line coach for the 2018 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Before that, he held the same position at USC.
Chris Wilson said that he is proud of his son and he believes that he can succeed in the NFL.
“He has worked his butt off,” Chris Wilson said. “For him to be named Mr. Irrelevant, he’s so relevant. Out of all of the guys that were eligible to be drafted, he was one out of 254 … He and I both know how hard this profession is, so for him to make the investment in it, I think it’s huge. He went to three high schools, lived all over the country, and he gave himself the opportunity to get drafted. I think that’s pretty major.”
Former longtime college basketball coach and athletic director Stan Morrison received the “Hero Beyond the Hashmarks” Paul Salata award.
The idea of Irrelevant Week when Salata thought it up in the 1970s was to do something nice to someone for no reason at all. Wilson said he definitely plans to enjoy the rest of Irrelevant Week, which runs through Tuesday.
“Everybody in this room now roots for you,” Ireland said before the evening concluded. “We’re now going to watch Cardinals games because of you.”
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