All-Star games can be hit or miss. The MLB and NBA All-Star games are fairly awesome (in part because of the Home Run Derby and the Slam Dunk Contest), but the NFL Pro Bowl has always been pretty lame.
The Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, however, could be the most entertaining of them all. Featuring some of the best high school football recruits, the game is usually a blast to watch. The game is set to broadcast on ESPN2 on Jan. 2 at 4 p.m. EST. Here are five big reasons why you need to tune in.
1. Catch The Next A.J. Green (or Julio Jones, or Jadeveon Clowney, etc.)
Since its inaugural game in 2008, the UA All-America HS game has attracted football’s best and brightest prospects. In that first game, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Da’Quan Bowers, Janoris Jenkins, E.J. Manuel and Courtney Upshaw participated. They all wound up going in either the first or second round of the NFL Draft. The point is, getting to play in this game is a big deal. You’ve got to be an elite player headed to a major college program.
That’s what makes watching the game so much fun. If you tuned in to the game in 2011, you got to see Jadeveon Clowney wreak havoc—three years before he became a No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick. An extra entertaining element is the fact that most of the players are headed to different college programs, but for this one game they might be on the same team. That’s how we saw Jameis Winston (Florida State’s Heisman-winning QB) throwing a touchdown pass to Amari Cooper (Alabama’s star receiver) in the 2012 game.
And since these players are top recruits, you probably won’t have to wait long before they make an impact on a major college team. Christian Hackenberg, Robert Nkemdiche, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, all of whom participated in the 2013 or 2014 game, are already making their presence felt in their programs.
In today’s contest, keep an eye on Terry Beckner, a defensive tackle from East St. Louis High School in Illinois, and Byron Cowart, a defensive end from Armwood High School in Seffner, Florida. They’re the No. 1 DT and DE in their recruiting class, respectively, and they’re tied for the best overall grade in the class by ESPN.com. To make things even more interesting, they’re both uncommitted. Which leads me to the second reason you need to watch.
2. Several Top Recruits Will Announce Their Decision
Announcing your commitment has become a huge deal. Back in the day, it might’ve been done as simply as a phone call. But in recent years, we’ve seen fakeouts, alligators, babies, haircuts and more play a role in a top recruit announcing his commitment.
With at least six top recruits set to announce their decisions at today’s game, the drama will be high. Will Alabama continue to stockpile its already loaded class (the Crimson Tide already have 12 commits playing in the game)? Will Jim Harbaugh’s arrival at Michigan attract some studs? Will your favorite team score a coveted, program-changing recruit? No matter what happens, it’s sure to be entertaining.
Maybe we’ll get another angry momma, as was the case when Landon Collins announced his commitment to Alabama over his mother’s favorite, LSU. If you can believe it, Collins’s brother also announced his decision at a UA All-America HS game a couple of years later. And he burned LSU, too, picking Florida instead! Thanksgiving in that household must be awkwaaarrrddd.
3. The Coaching Staffs are Crazy
Top flight players need top flight coaches, right? That certainly seems to be the motto of the UA All-America game. The white team is led by head coach Herm Edwards, whose assistants include former NFL players Steve Crosby and Wes Chandler. The black team is helmed by head coach Steve Mariucci, and his assistants include former NFL coaches Rex Norris and Robert Ford, as well as Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
Both squads also employ some of the best high school coaches from across the country as positional coaches. And these guys aren’t just mailing it in—they really want their team to win. If you want proof, just check out this video from the 2011 game, when Mike Ditka and Keyshawn Johnson were a part of the coaching staffs.
4. The Uniforms Are Insane
The UA All-America Game is a chance for Under Armour to go wild when designing jerseys, helmets and accessories. Last year, the uniforms featured a love-it-or-hate-it gradient pattern, and the uniforms for this year’s game are nothing short of electric, featuring prominent amounts of neon green and neon blue.
Even the practice gear is wild! The uniforms for these games feature everything that many traditionalists hate—clashing colors, lots of neon, gradient patterns, etc. But think about it. If recruits are going to commit to schools like Penn State or Notre Dame—whose uniforms are classic, but boring—they deserve to dress as gaudily as possible for at least one game. During the UA All-America HS Game, every recruit can feel like he can got to Oregon.
5. There’s a Skills Contest
Similar to the various contests (Slam Dunk, Home Run Derby, 3-Point Shootout) that precede professional all-star games, the UA All-America High School Game has a skills contest of its own. Here’s Matt Barkley killing the QB skills challenge before the 2009 game; and here’s Jameis Winston getting after it a couple of years ago. Check out the video player above for additional throwback footage of Winston dominating at the Elite 11 Quarterback Competition.
ESPNU will also air practice footage throughout the week. If you think the players or coaches are just loafing around during practice, you couldn’t be more wrong.