Under Armour All-Americans ready to show their stuff on Sunday
After a week of practices and other festivities, the 80 Under Armour All-Americans are ready to show what they are made of on Sunday at the Citrus Bowl, writes Christopher Lawlor.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Russell Shepard, the do-it-all quarterback bound for LSU, has a theory about the Under Armour All-America High School Football Game.
"You have to learn to work with athletes who are used to getting the ball in a hurry," said Shepard, who recently graduated early from Cypress Ridge High in Cypress, Texas. "There's a lot of talent here. All the players were the stars on their high school teams, and now here's one last test."
Eighty of the nation's elite football players will close out their high school careers Sunday (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET) at the Florida Citrus Bowl on the grandest stage.
The second Under Armour All-America Game will showcase the nation's top high school seniors. The inaugural game was played last year at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Shepard, the nation's top-ranked prospect, might be on to something after taking snaps and huddling with the Black team. Here are a few tidbits that back up his theory.
• Want star power? Consider these numbers: Sixty-six players -- 33 on each roster -- are ranked in the ESPNU 150. That means nearly 44 percent of the ESPNU 150 is competing in one game and more than 80 percent of each roster is composed of elite players.
• Star players need superior coaching. Shepard said, "When a Hall of Fame coach talks, you listen." Head coaches Mike White of the Black team and Marv Levy of the White team have NFL pedigrees. White coached the Oakland Raiders, and Levy, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, guided the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Both teams are backed by 10 of America's most successful high school coaches, and their veteran offensive and defensive coordinators boast thick dossiers. The Black team has Dave Levy guiding the offense and Rex Norris heading the defense. Levy won four national titles with Southern California, while Norris has more than 30 years of college and NFL experience.
The White team has Sherman Lewis, formerly of the Packers, Lions and Vikings, heading the offense. George Dyer, who has more than 20 years of NFL experience, will lead the defense.
Additionally, future Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter instructed wide receivers. His son, Duron Carter, is a wide receiver for the Black squad.
• The linebacking corps have drawn rave reviews from coaches and players alike.
"It's our [the linebackers'] time to shine," said Jenkins, who starred at Good Counsel (Olney, Md.). "We have a job and must play as a team."
• Both squads boast several game-breakers.
Defensive back Ray Ray Armstrong, defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel and Jaamal Berry are Floridians who will play for the Black team. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert of Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) was Gatorade's national player of the year.
• The offensive lines are a coach's dream and a quarterback's best friend. A pair of Texans, Mason Walters and Paden Kelley, are two of the nation's top three tackles playing for the Black team. Both are headed to Texas in the fall.
"Everyone here is a student of the game," said Jamal Patterson, a wide receiver from Henry County (McDonough, Ga.). "You may have coaches instructing players once or twice, but that's it."
Mark Brazinski, the No. 2-rated center from Immaculata (Somerville, N.J.), is amazed by the level of play.
"You're surrounded by greatness," he said. "There aren't many anonymous players here."
Nationally, Michael Campanaro (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) of River Hill (Clarksville, Md.) might not have a reputation, but he's showing why he was named the Washington Post All-Met Offensive Player of the Year. (Jelani Jenkins was named the defensive player of the year.)
At Friday's hands competition at the 2009 Burger King All-American Varsity Skills Challenge, Campanaro finished second to Robbie Toma by a narrow margin.
Campanaro, a Wake Forest recruit, helped River Hill win its second straight Maryland Class 2A title and rushed for 1,848 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also caught three touchdown passes, returned two punts for scores and intercepted seven passes as a safety (three for touchdowns).
Campanaro is excited about playing and said this week's practice was a taste of the future.
"The speed of the game will increase on the college level," he said. "Timing is everything at the next level. The quarterbacks are on the money, the wide receivers can break open a game, but the game is usually won up front."
Zach Martin, a 6-5, 260-pound tackle from Bishop Chatard (Indianapolis), is headed to Notre Dame. He will toil in the trenches.
"Coach White has connected with our team," he said. "Our coaches have stressed technique and pass protection. Most high schools run block, but that's not the case in college or the pros."
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.
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2009 Under Armour All-America Game
UA All-America Game index
Scouting The Practices• Scouts Inc.: Day 3 practice buzz
• Tucker: Day 2 practice buzz
• Tucker: Day 1 practice buzz
Features• Scouts Inc.: Stock report from UA week
• Lawlor: Stars shine in UA All-America Game
• Mahoney: Florida natives represent in Orlando
• Lawlor: UA All-Americans ready for the show
• Lawlor: Survey says ...
• Mahoney: Lynch ready to have Boston TE party
• Mahoney: Toma a surprise skills challenge victor
• Mahoney: Te'o making an impression in Orlando
• Murphy: Future Horns have one common goal
• Luginbill: Breaking down Shepard vs. Pryor
• Miller: Top prospect Shepard stays grounded
• Mahoney: QB Alipate looking to open eyes
• Murphy: Coaching legends return to their roots
• Scouts Inc.: Matchups to watch in UA practices
• Scouts Inc.: Matchups to watch in UA game
• Luginbill: How the teams were selected
• Tale of the tape: Position-by-position comparison
• Breaking down the White team's roster
• Breaking down the Black team's roster
Zoom Galleries• Under Armour All-America Game
• Burger King All-America Skills Challenge
• Day 3 practice
• Day 2 practice
• Day 1 practice
• Welcome to the Under Armour Game
Video• High Five: Best nicknames
• Lynch out to break stereotypes
• All-American roundtable
• Barkley ready for challenge of college
• Texas recruits get to know each other
• Texas commit Walters' resolutions for '09
• Conley explains area of scouting
• Texas commit Ashcraft shows off the bling
• Sam and Stan's sights and sounds at UA Game
• Recruits talk recruiting