Commentary

Under Armour All-Americans weigh in on recruiting issues

Updated: January 5, 2009, 6:31 PM ET
By Chris Lawlor | ESPNRISE.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Eighty of the nation's top high school football players are here this week to participate in the inaugural Under Armour High School All-America Game at the Citrus Bowl on Sunday (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The game caps their brilliant prep careers; 66 (33 on each squad) of the players are in the ESPNU 150 player rankings.

Seven student-athletes sat down to discuss hot-button issues concerning the high school game and the next level:

• Lineman Mark Brazinski, Immaculata (Somerville, N.J.)
• Wide receiver Mike Campanaro, River Hill (Clarksville, Md.)
• Linebacker Jelani Jenkins, Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)
• Lineman Zach Martin, Bishop Chatard (Indianapolis)
• Wide receiver Jamal Patterson, Henry County (McDonough, Ga.)
• Quarterback Russell Shepard, Cypress Ridge (Cypress, Texas)
• Linebacker Manti Te'o, Punahou School (Honolulu)

What is the most annoying aspect of the recruiting process?

Brazinski: The reporters were not cognizant of the time change. If they were calling from the West Coast at 8 p.m., it's 11 in the East. After school and practice, I go to sleep early.

Campanaro: The constant phone calls and e-mails. My father would remind me to get back to the coaches. If I didn't, the e-mails would stack up.

Jenkins: There really wasn't one thing. The toughest thing was the pressure when selecting a college. The Internet sites will misquote you, and then a college [coach] calls and asks if it's true. Most times I never said it.

Martin: Those Internet guys would call 10 minutes after my visit and want to know everything. I committed early to Notre Dame, and suddenly all that stuff went away.

Shepard: The analysts who think they know more than the players and coaches. Most of them never played the game.

[+] EnlargeRussell Shepard
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comRussell Shepard is ready to play on Saturdays this fall.

What will you miss the most about high school?

Brazinski: I won't know until I get to college. You never know what you miss until you don't have it.

Campanaro: Monday night meatballs at our house. There would be 20 of us, and my mom would cook an Italian meal for us. It was great to be with my friends and teammates. We grew up playing Pee Wee football and won two state championships.

Jenkins: Playing on Friday nights under the lights. You go to school all day and then get ready for the game. It's a great feeling. I was fortunate to have great coaches and teammates.

Martin: The players, and especially the coaches. Our coaches all played previously for Chatard and are committed to making the high school experience a great one.

Patterson: The Friday night lights, along with my teammates and coaches.

Shepard: I have too many memories. The high school game set the foundation for the next level.

Te'o: In high school it's not a business; you can enjoy the game with your childhood friends.

Who will win the national championship, Florida or Oklahoma? And any Super Bowl predictions?

Brazinski: Oklahoma will win in a shootout. It'll be a close game, though. As for the Super Bowl, Steelers will beat the Giants. That won't be popular back in New Jersey where everyone is a Giants fan.

Campanaro: Florida will win, because the SEC plays the best defense and it has Tim Tebow. As for the Super Bowl, I think the Eagles will finally win the ring for Donovan McNabb.

Jenkins: Florida will win with its speed. I don't think Oklahoma sees speed like that on a weekly basis. Since my Redskins are out, I don't know. I can't go for the Eagles or Giants because they are in the same division as the Skins.

Martin: Florida will win with speed. The Super Bowl is an easy one; I'm a huge Indianapolis Colts fan.

Patterson: Florida has the speed. The Falcons will win the Super Bowl. I'm from Georgia.

Shepard: Florida will win because of Tim Tebow's leadership and the overall speed of the SEC. The Super Bowl is too tight to call.

Te'o: Florida has a game-changer like Tim Tebow and the overall team speed. Since the 49ers can't win the Super Bowl -- that's my favorite team -- I'll go with the Baltimore Ravens. Ray Lewis is my idol; I look up to him and emulate him.

Should there be an early signing period in November like college basketball?

Brazinski: No way. A lot of kids need time to make this big decision. What happens if a coach gets another job? He'll take his coaches, and that leaves 15 kids looking for another school and waiting to see who the college hires.

Campanaro: That's a good idea, because some kids make their mind up early, but instead of having it in November like basketball, do it in December when the season ends.

Jenkins: I don't mind waiting until February. I still had 20 schools in mind in November. It's a long process, but you want to get it right. In November, I'm busy with school.

Martin: Yes, because it would stop players from committing early and then at the last second pull out. Colleges are counting on certain players when they give their word.

Patterson: You don't need one; you should be true to your word.

Shepard: Why not? Some [players] just want to get it over.

What do you think of the current BCS system? Would you prefer a playoff?

Campanaro: I'd like to see an eight-team playoff played in December. It would give teams like Utah a chance for a national championship after going undefeated. If you don't make the playoff, then schools can go to a bowl game; that's a reward for a good season.

Shepard: A playoff would be great. It could showcase the players and leave no doubt who's the No. 1 team.

Which is better, the NFL or college?

Brazinski: The college game is more diverse.

Campanaro: [In] college you tend to see more big plays; those 80-yard runs. I also like that colleges all run different offenses and pack their stadiums with fans and great bands. There's nothing [in the NFL like] the environment at a college stadium like Penn State, Tennessee or Michigan.

Jenkins: College has better traditions and atmosphere. [In] the NFL you're playing for money; it's a job.

Te'o: College is more diversified. You have teams running different offenses. The traditions are great; the school spirit is high and the bands are entertaining. It's just a great overall atmosphere. In the NFL it seems everyone is fast and strong.

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 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.