SAN ANTONIO, Texas – For Rivals.com subscribers and hardcore recruiting fanatics, names like Adrian Peterson, Ted Ginn, Kevin Jones and Vincent Young were already household names. But for the rest of the nation, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl was their first glimpse into how talented these elite prospects are.
The fifth edition of the Army All-America Bowl is set for noon Saturday at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio and new stars are ready to emerge on the national stage. Rivals.com has been covering the game since its inception and will have full coverage of the game, events and leading up to the broadcast on NBC.
KJ WAS THE MAN IN 2000
The first game was in 2000 and was played at Highland Park High School in Dallas. The game, which was broadcast on Fox Sports Net, featured many players that had a major impact in college football.
Rivals.com had Kevin Jones ranked as the nation's No. 1 player and for many that blustery Saturday afternoon was the first time that fans got a chance to see KJ in action, and he didn't disappoint.
Jones showed his speed and running ability by barreling over, around and through defenders. It was clear by seeing him that he was going to be a star at Virginia Tech, and he was.
The game's most valuable player award went to Dominic Robinson, who is now at Florida State. Prime Time 2, a nickname that he gave himself, intercepted a Brett Basanez (Northwestern) pass and returned it 90 yards, along with two pass break ups and four tackles.
Miami bound Leon Williams was named the game's defensive most valuable player, along with earning rave reviews from the other players as the most physically put together player on the field. The game's offensive MVP was Brent Rawls, who signed with Oklahoma but was never able to beat out Heisman winning quarterback Jason White and others on the Sooners' depth chart.
But the game was not all cheers and high fives.
That's because one of Rivals.com's favorites blew his ACL out in the game. Remember when Kevin Simon of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle got on the field for only a few plays and then limped to the sideline with a blown out knee.
It was only a sign of things to come as Simon showed flashes of brilliance in Knoxville, but he spent most of his college career on the sidelines with multiple knee injuries.
The first game also featured what probably should have been known as the LSU possie. The West roster was littered with LSU commitments – including offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth and receiver Michael Clayton.
Through their recruiting abilities, they helped convince offensive lineman Ben Wilkerson and defensive tackle Marquise Hill to join them on the Tiger commitment list. Almost every single one of those players played a key role for the Tigers in their national championship run in 2003.
The game also starred Shaun Cody, the All-America defensive end that was just crowned national champion for the USC Trojans.
VINCE YOUNG'S COMING OUT PARTY
The 2002 game was highlighted by two future stars at Florida State and Texas.
The nation's No. 1 player in 2002 – Vince Young of Houston Madison – sparked the West squad from his quarterback spot with amazing passing and running ability, showing why he is now one of the nation's elite college quarterbacks.
For his efforts in the game, Young was named the MVP and he was clearly what everybody talked about before, during and then after the game. He showed glimpses of what you saw on the field all year long and again in the Rose Bowl when he almost single-handedly led Texas to a comeback victory over Michigan.
Teaming up with Young was running back and future FSU star Lorenzo Booker. The nation's top running back for 2002, scored two touchdowns and rushed for 66 yards on 12 carries.
On the defensive side of the ball there was no question what player stood out the most. Oregon bound Haloti Ngata of Salt Lake City was impossible to block, recording seven tackles and a forced fumble. He was named second-team All-Pac 10 after bouncing back from an injury the year before.
The game also helped introduce the nation to T.A. McClendon, the touchdown machine that rivaled Maurice Clarrett as the nation's top running when they were true freshmen back in 2003.
TROJANS, GATORS SCORE BIG ONES IN 2003
In 2003, the game belonged to the Trojans and Gators.
The East squad blasted the West squad 47-3 behind the big passing day of quarterback Chris Leak. The Charlotte quarterback also announced that he was going to Florida in what at the time was one of the worst kept secrets around, as word buzzed from the East squad about Leak becoming a Gator.
But the drama was still worth watching, as Leak read from a prepared statement and then said the magic words Gator fans were looking for.
"I'm going to the University of Florida," he said. "I'm going to be a Gator."
Leak then completed the show by putting on a Florida hat, holding a Gator helmet and then flinging three touchdown passes.
USC also didn't do too bad either in the game, picking up commitments and big performances from Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
Bush racked up 66 yards rushing on 11 carries and showed flashes of what was to come with his big-play ability. White had only 19 yards rushing, but he impressed throughout the week with his strong work ethic and ability to not be tackled by one defender.
SO WHAT'S WHY THEY'RE RANKED SO HIGH
The old coach's axiom is that big-time players make big-time plays in big games. So it was no surprise at all that Adrian Peterson of Palestine, Texas, and Ted Ginn Jr. of Cleveland Glenville each took over in last year's edition of the all-star game.
Ranked as the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 players by Rivals.com, Peterson and Ginn were as advertised.
Ginn, who took a kickoff return back 98 yards, earned the game's most valuable player honors. Peterson, who had two touchdown runs, was also named as the Spalding National High School player of the year award.
And despite all of the stars that were also on the stage, none of them were brighter than Ginn and Peterson.
"It was amazing to come out and do something like this with the whole nation watching," Ginn said. "There was a lot of pressure on us guys to come out here and perform, but once the first hit was out of the way it was just like I was out there on the field at Glenville."
Peterson said it took him a while to get on track but once he did, he felt like he was in the groove and back out there ripping through opponents like he did this season.
"This game was definitely a step up and it took a while to adjust to the speed of those guys on defense," Peterson said. "Those guys on the East really were fast, so I just had to take my game to a whole different level."
The East won the game 45-28, but it was Ginn and Peterson that took their game to the next level.
Ginn's kickoff return was a thing of beauty. He took the ball at the 2-yard line and then started off to his left. He picked up a few blocks, made a few defenders miss with shoulder and hip fakes and then he burst through the scrum on the left sideline.
He turned his jets on and outraced everybody to the end zone, including both the kicker and two other defenders that had the angle on him.
"I knew once I got past that first wave, that I was going to be able to take it all the way," Ginn said. "I have to also give a lot of credit to the guys that open up the holes for me. They made it really easy for me. I had to make a few moves and then I was able to just use my speed to get by everybody."
Peterson also didn't disappoint with 91 yards rushing on nine attempts for a 10.1 yard average. He also tacked on two touchdowns and both were a thing of beauty.
On his 14-yard with 13:36 left in the fourth quarter, Peterson took the handoff on a zone play to the right. The outside was cutoff by the East defenders and he was able to cut back to the left behind the block of Herman Johnson.
Once he completed the cutback he ended up having three East defenders grab on to him and attempt to bring him down. Peterson dragged those guys the final five yards into the end zone.
"It was tough running," Peterson said. "That's something I pride myself on."
WHAT STAR IS READY TO SOAR
With almost 50 Rivals100 prospects scheduled to play in this year's edition of the game, it definitely looks like the nation's best collection of who's who in this year's recruiting class.
Seventeen of the nation's top 20 players according to Rivals.com are on the roster for the game and all but four five-star players are in the game. Unlike last year, where heading into the game it was pretty clear that Peterson and Ginn were the heads of their class, no single player jumps out as the guy to watch.
But if the previous games taught us anything it is that skill players always seem to make their marks in all-star games. So look for players like receiver Fred Rouse, quarterback Mark Sanchez and tight end Martellus Bennett to have big weeks.
Yet, don't overlook running backs Jonathan Stewart and Toney Baker. Many people have been wondering how good Stewart, Rivals.com's No. 1 running back, really is. And this could be his big opportunity to show people that his ability to run over running backs in Washington state can translate to running over the nation's best in San Antonio.
Rivals.com will have a full staff of reporters and photographers at the practices and events leading up to Saturday's game. Expect full and unrivaled coverage throughout the week.