Like many top prospects, Drae Bowles was sitting in front of his television watching the 2011 U.S. Army All-American Bowl last January. Yet, despite the fact he had produced big-time numbers on the field, the Jackson Christian (Tenn.) receiver didn't expect he be part of the 2012 game.
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"It never really crossed my mind I'd have the opportunity to play in it," Bowles said.
When an invitation arrived last spring, he wasn't sure what to say.
"My head coach told me and it really surprised me," Bowles said. "I actually was speechless at first. It was really just a blessing to be honored to play in the game. I was shocked because I didn't expect it."
On Thursday, the U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection tour stopped by Jackson Christian to officially invite Bowles to play in the prestigious game next Jan. 7 at the Alamodome in San Antonio -- and present him with his game jersey. To the talented Bowles, who committed to the Tennessee Volunteers last July, it all seemed pretty surreal.
"It definitely means a lot, just to know I'm playing for my country and for the Army," Bowles said. "Giving back to them is a tremendous opportunity."
The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Bowles, who said he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, recently finished his stellar high school career with these eye-catching numbers: 171 catches, 2,569 yards, 23 touchdowns. As a senior, he recorded 31 receptions for 519 yards and five scores.
Opposing teams "were definitely focusing on me more this season," Bowles said. "A lot of times in a game, I'd have a corner and a safety double-teaming me. This year, it was a lot harder to get me the ball."
Bowles' breakout year came in 2010, when he recorded 50-plus receptions for 14 touchdowns and more than 1,100 yards on offense, and made an impact at outside linebacker, a position he had never before played in high school.
How did he do on defense?
"He was all-state," Jackson Christian coach Matt Underwood told Rivals.com earlier this year.
Although he has the ability to play either position well, Bowles, who also is a member of the school's basketball team, said he will be a receiver once he arrives in Knoxville, Tenn., next summer (He will make his official visit to see the Volunteers on Jan. 13).
For now, though, Bowles is focused on his San Antonio experience. For a kid from a small school in a medium-sized town, this is one really big opportunity, he said. And he plans to take full advantage of it.
"It's real exciting to be able to go there and compete with some of these guys," Bowles said. "It's going to be fun. It's a great opportunity to go and compete with guys and get to know them. I just want to go out there and be the person I am. I don't want to try to overdo it. I definitely think it's going to help me a lot, to get the exposure and compete against the best guys in the nation. It's going to be a great experience. You're talking about getting chills."