The U.S, Army All-American Bowl kicked off its selection tour for the 2012 game on Tuesday in Oklahoma City as running back Barry Sanders was honored in a ceremony at Heritage Hall.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior has been in the spotlight since a breakout freshman season but his selection to play in the game is something Sanders says is more meaningful than any other award or accolade he has received so far in his career. It is the culmination of work he has put in both on and off the field over the past few years.
"To be selected as a U.S. Army All-American means a lot," Sanders said. "To have the honor to be selected amongst 90 great athletes across the nation and to be a representation of what the Army believes in means a lot.
"My journey to become a U.S. Army All-American has been a long process. I've been to a couple of FBU camps that have helped me with the process and to get acquainted with some of the guys that are associated with the game. I've built a lot of friendships and I can't believe this is all coming to an end here in a few months."
Sanders, the son of Hall-of-Fame running back of the same name, knows his father helped blaze a path for him and he is incredibly grateful for the gifts which he has been given.
"My dad played a lot of successful years in the NFL and he's a hero to a lot of people," the younger Sanders said. "He's definitely my hero just to see where he's come from growing up in Wichita being the 7th out of 11 brothers and sisters. Just to hear his story is definitely inspiring and to be able to be in a better situation than he was means a lot."
Despite having a level of fame that does not come to most high school students, Sanders has remained incredibly grounded and humble. It comes from a strong support system in his life and is something he does not take for granted.
"I have a lot of family supporting me here today - cousins, my mom, grandpa, uncles - which means a lot and they've been there for me through the years I've played football," he said. "I started in second grade and I love nothing more than to see family in the stands to give me inspiration.
"The things that motivate me are probably different from a lot of people. I think being able to see my little brother at my games and my family at my games, that's all the motivation I need to see their support and see that they want me to succeed."
Sanders says he has watched the past U.S. Army All-American Bowl games on television every year and knows the history of the event that has featured the likes of Tim Tebow, Vince Young and Ndamukong Suh. There is one player, though, that truly stands out to Sanders and the two happen to play the same position.
"My favorite U.S. Army alum would probably have to be Adrian Peterson," he said. "That highlight of him running over guys and scoring so aggressively, I think that will always be shown. He's a great, great athlete and a great player and it's exciting to watch his highlights."
Sanders will suit up for the West squad in the game and, when pressed to make a prediction, see his team winning in the end. However, it isn't necessarily because of his skillsets that he believes it to be the case.
"I think the West will be able to (win), especially if we can play defense," he said. "That's something I'm looking forward to in college, (playing on) a team that can play great defense. I think the offense will be there but I think it's defense that makes a great team.
Sanders and the West team take on the East in the 12th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The game will be nationally televised on NBC.