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PALATINE, Ill. - Christian Lombard just wanted to start practice.
But before the Notre Dame commitment could get back to being an offensive lineman for Fremd High School, Lombard had to separate himself from his teammates. Seated alongside his parents and high school coach as the Vikings players watched from the stands, Lombard accepted his official invitation to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
"It's a big honor," Lombard said. "I've been watching this game since I was young. I never thought I'd be at this spot, but I've worked hard to get there and here it is."
It was a rare moment of individualism for a player focused on the collective.
"I just want to be one of the guys," Lombard said. "I know I stand out a lot, but I like to blend in with everyone else. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but that's just what I like to do."
That was already a tough task for the 6-foot-5, 295-pound offensive tackle that anchors undefeated Fremd's offensive line. After accepting an U.S. Army All-American jersey from Staff Sergeant Vito Deiure, an Army recruiter, it might become even harder.
"Christian embodies many of the characteristics of an Army strong soldier and we are proud to have him on our team," Deiure said.
There was no doubt Lombard wanted to follow Notre Dame players Jimmy Clausen, Michael Floyd, Trevor Robinson and Chris Watt to the premier high school all-star game, played Jan. 9 in San Antonio, Texas. Lombard started dreaming of this moment after his sophomore season and his reasons run deeper than the roster he'll join next year.
Lombard's brother, Sean Valentine, was a marine for five years, serving two tours of duty overseas. Lombard's uncle is Army Colonel Andrew Phillips, who played a part in the crafting of the Iraqi constitution. Lombard's family tree also includes a great grandfather who served in World War I and other relatives who served in World War II.
"He didn't even consider going to any other games," said father Greg Lombard. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for him, my wife and I. Seeing him being recognized like this, it's gratifying beyond words."
Lombard doesn't plan to simply use the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a way to end his high school career. The Irish commitment sees an opportunity to test himself against some of the nation's best defensive linemen, a group that includes Chris Martin, Jackson Jeffcoat, Ronald Powell and Kelcy Quarles.
In Quarles, a four-star commitment to South Carolina, Lombard will reunite with a former teammate. While living in South Carolina in elementary school, Lombard teamed with Quarles on a fourth grade Pop Warner team. Now they'll join forces on the East Team in San Antonio.
"It's a small world," Lombard said. "It's definitely a huge opportunity to prove myself on a national stage.
"Being in high school, you don't get to go against All-Americans every single week. It's going to be really competitive down there and it will be a measuring point for myself against great competition."
But that competition can wait. For now, Lombard is focused on closing out his Fremd career with a deep playoff run. Vikings head coach Mike Donatucci uses Lombard not only to open up the powerful Fremd offense, but as an example for the rest of his roster.
"With ability comes responsibility," Donatucci said. "I think the most important thing about Christian is he's accepted responsibility. He's dared to be great.
"We'll be watching you for a long time."