There is great competition between the two major nationally television all-star games--NBC's U.S. Army All-Amrican Bowl and ESPN's Under Armour All-America Game--and, in the end, I think it's good for high school football.
It is good to have two games because about 170 kids get an opportunity to receive national exposure. Maybe there is room for a third game. As it is, the two games get their share of the top-rated players in the nation.
The rosters have been announced. U.S. Army has 45 of the top 100 players in the country, six of the top 10, 14 of the top 20 and 29 of the top 50. Under Armour has 30 of the top 100, six of the top 14 and 18 of the top 50. Under Armour also has the nation's top-rated player, USC-bound quarterback Matt Barkley of Santa Ana, Calif.
Fourteen of the 24 players on my 2008 All-America team will play in the U.S. Army game.
But this isn't all peaches and cream. There are politics involved whenever you are talking about all-star games in any sport. Aside from the two national games, there are several regional games, including Ohio/Pennsylvania, Georgia/Florida and Alabama/Mississippi.
The trick, of course, is for event sponsors to persuade as many of the top players as possible to participate in their game. Because of the competitive nature of the selection process, another form of recruiting, players used to be picked during their senior season. Now they are wooed and selected when they are juniors.
Barkley is committed to the Under Armour game because Steve Clarkson has been his quarterback guru for years and Clarkson had a falling out with the U.S. Army.
Look at the national rankings--mine, Rivals, Scout or ESPN. Some kids are rated higher than others based on which all-star game they are committed to. Remember a year ago when ESPN didn't rank Terrelle Pryor as one of the top five freshmen to watch? Why? He played in the U.S. Army game, not Under Armour.
Three Illinois products will play in the U.S. Army game--Notre Dame-bound offensive lineman Chris Watt of Glenbard West, Illinois-bound wide receiver Kraig Appleton of East St. Louis and Illinois-bound defensive end Craig Drummond of Morgan Park.
Why Drummond? After all, he didn't play a single down during the 2008 season because of a foot injury. But he was the preseason choice as the No. 1 player in Illinois and was selected to play in the game last March, before his senior year.
There still is some doubt that Drummond will be able to play in the U.S. Army game in January in San Antonio. But he said he is working out and claims to be 80 percent physically ready to play.
Last year, 10 players were injured and unable to play. They stood on the sideline. A few years ago, Niles West's Rashard Mendenhall didn't play after pulling a muscle during a pregame practice session. A substitute for Drummond already has been added to the roster in the event he can't participate.
Illinois-bound wide receiver/safety Terry Hawthorne of East St. Louis will play in the Under Armour game. I saw Hawthorne and Appleton play and invited both to play in the U.S. Army game last April. But Appleton had a better year as a junior so the U.S. Army chose him instead of Hawthorne.
Even though Hawthorne had a better senior year than Appleton and East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said Hawthorne was the best player on his state championship team, U.S. Army had already selected its team before the 2008 season. Under Armour, which hadn't picked Hawthorne earlier, recently added him to its roster.