Commentary

USC commits watch future team roll in Rose Bowl

Originally Published: January 1, 2008
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN.com

Khaled Holmes and Blake AylesGary Bogdon for ESPN.comUSC commits Khaled Holmes (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) and Blake Ayles (Orange, Calif./Lutheran) are all smiles the day after the Trojans' Rose Bowl win.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- You might expect future college rivals to carry an edge. Guess again.

No trash talking here; just camaraderie.

"We're just chillin' now," said Khaled Holmes, an offensive lineman from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.

A majority of the 80 players participating in Saturday's inaugural Under Armour All-America high School Football Game, at the least the ones already committed to colleges, were wearing gear of the programs they will be representing next fall.

New Year's Day played out typically as players hung out in the players' lounge at the Coronado Springs Resort near Walt Disney World.

As millions of Americans lounged in front of their televisions, so did Under Armour All Americans in the players' lounge, congregating to watch Georgia and Southern California win BCS Bowl games and Michigan win the Capital One Bowl.

In the lounge -- replete with a wall of large school televisions, Xbox stations equipped with the latest EA Sports NCAA '08, refreshments and oversized couches -- players were taking a break from preparation.

Players arrived Sunday for the game and endured double sessions on Monday and Tuesday with their new teammates, some of whom they will play in college with; some who may become mortal rivals.

That college rivalry stuff was put on hold Tuesday.

Holmes is one of four Under Armour All-American headed to Southern California in the fall.

As the Rose Bowl played out and the heavily favored Trojans were rolling to victory, Holmes cozied up to the game. He watched the game more intently than most players.

"I want to be playing in the Rose Bowl one day," he said. "They (USC) were always my top school and with their success, it made sense for me to go there."

[+] EnlargeBlake Ayles
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comBlake Ayles is one of eight ESPN 150 prospects committed to USC.
The Los Angeles campus is around 45 minutes from Orange County where Holmes resides.

Same goes for future teammate Blake Ayles, a talented tight end from Orange Lutheran. Ayles is a typical teenager from "the OC."

He is California cool, dressed in plaid skate boarder's shorts and donning a USC sweatshirt. He lives in Orange, Calif., located 30 minutes from some of the hippest beaches on the West Coast.

Ayles is looking forward to signing his national letter-of-intent with the Trojans on national signing day in February. However Tuesday he's schooling someone in NCAA '08 at the Xbox stations.

"Once I'm done here (playing Xbox) I'll check out the Rose Bowl," he said. "I'm looking forward to next year when I'm playing (in a bowl game)."

Across the room, Nick Crissman, a 6-4 quarterback from Edison High in Huntington Beach, Calif., is also watching the Rose Bowl.

He says the future USC players, like the rest of game participants, are civil when their teams are shown in the players' lounge.

Crissman, who missed two games this season following an appendectomy, is still solid with UCLA following a coaching change.

The USC-UCLA rivalry is intense especially in southern California where a bulk of both school's alumni reside.

Crissman should benefit from the recent hire of offensive savant Rick Neuheisel, who will coach his alma mater.

"I'm excited to play with him," Crissman said. "Offensively he knows what he's doing after coaching in college and NFL."

As the Rose Bowl progressed, it became apparent the USC would win (49-17 final score). That gave Joe Adams of Central Arkansas Christian (Little Rock) time to plug into the tunes of street soul artist J. Holiday on his iPod.

Like Holmes, Ayles and Matt Meyer of Lincoln (Stockton, Calif.), Adams will sign with Southern California.

Adams and Meyer are teammates on the Silver Team. Though the lounge is normally reserved for relaxing, Adams gushes about the stellar coaching he's received as a defensive back.

"I had great coaching in high school, but I'm learning new techniques which I'll need to know for college. When they (the Silver Team coaches) have coached in the NFL and college, you listen."

Kickoff is 2 p.m. ET (ABC) at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

The game is the culmination of the player's high school careers, with 67 of the players in the ESPN 150 player rankings.

Skilled

Eight players advanced to the finals of the Burger King All-American Varsity Skills Challenge Thursday night (delay broadcast Friday, ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).

The Under Armour All-Americans were tested on obstacles courses by positions. The competition melded speed, agility and technique drills.

Players in the Hands competition (skill positions) final are: Janoris Jenkins of Pahokee (Fla.); Dwayne Allen of Sanford (Fayetteville, N.C.); Charles Whitlock of Chester (S.C.); and Blake Cantu of Southlake (Texas) Carroll.

The linemen competing are: Chase Thomas of Walton (Marietta, Ga.); Omar Hunter of Buford (Sugar Hill, Ga.); Brandon Thompson of Thomasville (Ga.); and Tyler Westphal of Menasha (Wis.).

The Stanford-bound Thomas covered the course in 24.73 seconds -- top for linemen. "I'm as big as most of others (linemen)," Thomas said. "It takes speed and agility to get around the course. It was fun."

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.