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The U.S. Army All-American Bowl tour stopped in Apopka, Fla., Monday to officially invite two members of the Apopka Blue Darters football team.
Quarterback Jeremy Gallon and his defensive teammate Larvez Mars accepted the invitations in a ceremony held in the Apopka High School auditorium.
Teammates, coaches, family, school officials, and members of the media gathered to watch the ceremony.
The Apopka High teammates will join 88 other high school football players from around the United States for the ninth U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, January 3, 2009, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The game will be televised live on NBC at 1 p.m. EST. Some of the past participants include Reggie Bush, Tim Tebow, Adrian Peterson, Ted Ginn Jr., Chris "Beanie" Wells, Terrelle Pryor, Chris Leak, and Vince Young.
There were lots of smiles, handshakes, and hugs among the participants at the Apopka High ceremony.
"I can't describe my feelings," Mars said after the ceremony. "This lets me know all my hard work paid off."
"It means a lot to me, to be considered as an All-American," Gallon said.
"To me, this is the biggest of the all-star games. It's awesome to get one, much less two in the game," said Apopka head coach Rick Darlington. "They're good guys and good friends. It's nice for them."
Gallon has been a three-year starter for the Blue Darters, playing quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, while Mars, Apopka's middle linebacker, has been starting since late in his freshman season.
Since the two have been full-time starters for Apopka High's football team, the Blue Darters sport a 28-7 record, including a 12-2 season in 2007 when the Darters made it to the Class 6A state semifinals. This year, Apopka is 7-2 and the runner-up in District 6A-4. They will travel to Orlando Timber Creek – the District 6A-3 champion – November 21 for a first-round playoff game.
"They're really special young men," Darlington said about Gallon and Mars. "They're not arrogant and not cocky. They're just fine young men."
Gallon and Mars each gave many thank-yous to those in attendance.
"Their support is just unbelievable," Mars said. "I've been helped by my teammates and coaching staff."
"They really push us to go harder," Gallon said of the Apopka coaching staff. "My teammates are family, like brothers."
Gallon, who has been nursing a tender ankle for about a month, was questionable for Apopka's district championship game at Clermont East Ridge last Friday as the injury had gotten worse. He did start, but early in the second quarter, the ankle was more seriously injured on a routine tackle. Gallon ended the game with just three carries for a minus three yards. Even with that game, the senior has rushed for 1,391 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. He has nearly 4,000 yards for his career. As a passer, Gallon has thrown just one interception over the past two seasons.
He won't be playing quarterback in college, but Gallon says he remains strong in his commitment to the University of Michigan and head coach Rick Rodriguez. If you're wondering where he might play, think Percy Harvin of Florida.
"I'm not backing out of my commitment to Michigan," Gallon said, despite the fact that he still has other schools contacting him. Gallon said his other finalists were Iowa, Auburn, UAB, and FIU.
He said he chose Michigan because the coaches not only talked football, but academics. "Plus, I like the helmets," Gallon said with a smile. That's no surprise as, for the past two seasons, Apopka has had helmets painted like the famed Michigan winged helmets, but with Apopka's royal blue and white.
Mars is Apopka's leading tackler and has 93 for the season, including an outstanding game in the 21-13 loss to East Ridge. Apopka's middle linebacker has 50 solo tackles and eight tackles for loss.
He has yet to make his college commitment, but Mars said South Florida is the leader. He is also considering Central Florida, Florida, FIU, and Kentucky.
Both of them said they are still focused on Apopka's season. "We've got something to work on," Mars said. "The goal is playing in Orlando in December (for a state championship)."
Apopka will take its 7-2 record to Winter Garden West Orange to play the 1-7 Warriors on Friday, ending the regular season for the Blue Darters. But, they will do so without Gallon, who won't dress out for the game or practice this week. "You're now coach Gallon. Teach those running backs how to hit the hole," Darlington said jokingly to his senior star as he handed him a whistle.
After the game at West Orange, Apopka will have its bye week, which is coming at a good time to get not only Gallon healthy, but his brother, linebacker Bradley Gallon and running back Travelle Davis.