Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes is gearing up for what it hopes is a deep playoff run but star defensive end Eli Harold was focused on something else on Wednesday. He was honored with a U.S. Army All-American jersey, and it's a well-deserved honor.
Harold has registered more than a dozen sacks and has scored nearly a dozen touchdowns this year as a defensive end and wide receiver for one of the top teams in Virginia's prep ranks.
He has his team in a position to make some noise in the postseason largely because all of the attention he draws from opposing teams frees his teammates up to make plays. Ocean Lakes will take on Salem in the first round of the state playoffs this weekend. It's a game that has a special meaning for Harold.
"The game against Salem is a rematch of last year," Harold explained. "We came into the game favored to win but we came up short. That was the (anniversary) of the day my mother had passed away.
"We played earlier this year and we came out on top. I love playing against them because I have one of my family members on this team. I've really looked forward to it."
Speaking of family, Harold's going to have a lot of family with him in San Antonio at the Army Bowl on Jan. 7. His brother and his brother's wife, his niece and nephew and his godmother will all be making the trip to honor his hard work and show their support.
It's an honor Harold says he didn't expect.
"It came as a surprise," Harold said of the Army selection. "I never thought it would happen. I had seen people playing in it but I never thought I'd have the opportunity to play in the game.
"It means a lot. It's really something to be recognized as one of the top players in the country. It's an honor and I take it very seriously. I'm real excited about it."
As the highest-ranked member of Virginia's 2012 recruiting class he's especially excited about representing the university he's planning to attend. Both he and future teammate Kwontie Moore of Norfolk Christian will be representing UVa in the game.
"That's big time. (Virginia) is a team on the rise and you're playing in a national game with some of the top guys in the country with one of your future teammates. That's big-time."
Harold's head coach, Chris Scott, feels his player is about as big-time as it gets. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior is ranked as the No. 6 weakside defensive end in the nation and the No. 68 overall prospect.
"Eli is a playmaker on both offense and defense and it would be hard to find someone else in the country that is more effective on both sides of the ball," said coach Scott. "He has 11 touchdowns on offense as a wide receiver with three of them for more than 90 yards, he also has two runs over 50 yards and on defense he has 15 sacks, 23 tackles for a loss and 68 tackles. He is a freakish kid on the field."
And off the field, Harold has battled many tough times.
"He lost his uncle in 8th grade and he was like a father to him," said Scott. "Then his mom got cancer when he was in 9th grade, she beat it for a bit but it eventually took her last year. Then he lost his brother to a freak heart attack. He's been through so much but he has been very strong. For him it's faith, family and football. His brother is a pastor at a church and Eli is there at least four times a week. When he's not at church he's at practice or in the weight room or playing football in some way. He's the most well-rounded player I've had on the field in my years here and the toughest off the field. He's special."
Harold and the East team take on the West 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.