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McDONOUGH, Ga. - The creators of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl wanted a game that featured the nation's best high school football players, and the game's association with the U.S. Army led to a natural inclination toward high character young men.
On all accounts, Avery Walls is the textbook example of what the game organizers want.
On Monday, Walls accepted an invitation to play in the country's most prestigious All-American event in front of a packed assembly at his high school.
From a football standpoint, Walls certainly has the qualifications. The four-star safety has led his Eagle's Landing Christian Academy defense to the No. 1 ranking in Georgia's 1A classification behind Walls' three forced fumbles, 21 tackles and one interception. The damage he has done in the small school classification has come after a dominating junior season at Union Grove High School out of Georgia's AAAA classification.
From a character standpoint, Walls may be even rarer. A senior year transfer to a smaller school and a less competitive football atmosphere was a difficult decision but it shows that the talented athlete focuses on more than just football.
"Being at this new Christian school really influenced me and I think it's one of the best decisions of my life coming to this Christian school and coming to God," Walls said. "I'm making speeches to youth about non-violence, keeping grades up and doing the right thing. At the next level everybody plays football and I think you need to do stuff that separates you. I think when you've been given a lot you have to give a lot back."
Walls had his eye on the Army game, as well.
"It's actually been my freshman goal (to play in the US Army Bowl)," he said. "I finally achieved it, so it is really just a sigh of relief. Growing up you never really know how good you are compared to others in the country and that's why I started going to camps. I think I've gone out and not only competed with players but made bonds. It's been really great, this recruiting process, not only the places you go but the people you meet."
Part of that process for Walls was his performance at the U.S. Army Underclassman Combine back in January. At that event, Walls separated himself as one of the top performers among hundreds of the best underclassmen in the country. He also got a taste of the Army Bowl and liked the atmosphere.
"It was just mind-blowing and when I came back home I told my mom that this is where I want to be," Walls said of the event. "Not only was it a great time but the people that were there are the people that are defending our country. I just feel like it's the greatest honor of my football career so I wanted to do it not only because of what they do but for the people around the world. I just think it's really great."
As honored as he is to be named to the U.S. Army roster, he's not satisfied. As a slightly undersized safety, Walls will be looking to use the time in San Antonio as an opportunity to prove himself.
"I want to prove to everybody that I can play safety," he said. "A lot of people look at height and me being 5-11 and not one of these 6-2 rangy guys. I want to go out there and play safety, and show them that I can do everything that they can do.
"I also want to show my versatility. This year I'm playing corner and safety. I think versatility is going to be a big deal. I know once my season ends that I'm definitely going to be on the grind, on the field gearing up not only for the game but for college because right after the game I'm going to college. "
Walls' coach Jonathan Gess is a believer in his one season with the senior.
"Avery came to this school and just instantly was a great leader who showed great character," Gess said. "As far as him as a player, he just shuts down a whole side of the field because coaches won't throw or run that way. He also raises his teammates' level of play. He's a great representative of Eagle's Landing Christian and what they stand for."
Walls has taken an official visit to Michigan for the Connecticut game. He has also visited Tennessee unofficially to watch the Vols take on Oregon. The next two weeks he makes a West Coast swing.
"This weekend I'm going to Oregon for an official visit as they play Stanford," he said. "Then the following weekend I'll visit Cal officially. I don't know how the rest of my official visits will go. I'm getting heavily recruited by schools like Virginia, UConn, Cal, UCLA and South Carolina."
Walls also has South Carolina, Connecticut, Virginia and UCLA on his list. Walls said that he likely will visit the local schools unofficially and save his official visits for the programs across the country.
With an early enrollment scheduled, Walls will need to make his decision prior to National Signing Day and he said that decision will come after all his visits have been taken.
Barry Every contributed to this report.