SAN ANTONIO – Recruits have different reasons for playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl but one common theme emerged at Sunday's registration: They want to have fun, but also plan to test themselves against the best of the best.
"When you step on the field you're going to see the talent," said Roderick McDowell, a running back from Sumter (S.C.) who is committed to Clemson.
"You have players from all over the country. You have to play your best no matter what. It's Army Strong. Play hard or go home. It's exciting because you see you're playing in a game for people that go overseas and fight for you. Now you can give them something back and we're going to play for them."
McDowell is rated as the third-best all-purpose back nationally by Rivals.com and he's one of many top-notch prospects who will compete all week in practice leading up to Saturday's game.
Notre Dame commit Zeke Motta, one of the top players at the recent Hawaii Prep Football Classic, said he could get time at either strong safety or outside linebacker this week. He was unsure Sunday afternoon but wherever he plays he'll be tested against some of the best athletes in the 2009 class – and he's looking forward to it.
"Just come out and work as hard as I can and practice as hard as I can," said Motta, rated as the eighth-best outside linebacker. "Prove myself. There are always those people who doubt and say you're something that you're not. Come out and represent the Army and my family and my hometown well and also meet these guys and have fun and enjoy the experience."
Part of that experience is all of the off-field activities scheduled for the players that make this event much more than just a football game. Another part is testing their abilities against the nation's top players.
For Alex Okafor, the No. 2 weak-side defensive end from Pflugerville, Texas, the Army week is a sampling of what to expect when he gets to college. Okafor, the No. 14 prospect in the 2009 class by Rivals.com, is a Texas commit.
"I wanted to come down here because this is probably the next closest thing to playing at the college level," he said. "I wanted to come down here to see how I fair up with some of the best of the best and see if I'm ready for the college level and what I have to work on.
"It's exciting going from my school to here. I'm used to pretty much dominating but now you have to realize you're just another regular player like everybody else. You have to accept the role and be a part of the team. It feels good to have a bunch of players just as good as you are. You have respect for other players and they have respect for you so it's a fun and nice atmosphere."
Tampa (Fla.) Plant quarterback Aaron Murray's trip to the Army game was in serious question earlier this season after he broke his left fibula and dislocated his left ankle in mid-October. But Murray, a Georgia commit, recovered quicker than expected, led his team to the state championship and will play for the East squad this week.
"I'm going to go out there," Murray said. "I'm planning another week of practice and it should be close to 95 or 100 percent by the end of this week."
Other players, like Apopka (Fla.) linebacker Larvez Mars, said he is here to have fun and enjoy the experience, but to also prove a point. Mars feels he has been under-recruited and lists UAB as his top school with Kentucky, Cincinnati, Florida International and South Florida also involved.
His height – Mars is 5-foot-11 – might play a factor, but his production cannot be called into question. He finished with 163 tackles in his junior season and about 140 as a senior so he got it done on the field. Rivals.com rates him as the eighth-best inside linebacker in the class.
"It's special to be here," Mars said. "I want to have a good time and show I can play ball with the big guys."