Carthage is a small, quiet town in East Texas but the city takes its high school football very seriously. The team has won three straight state titles and is working toward a fourth this season.
However, one of the biggest moments in the school's history came a year ago when linebacker Kendall Thompson was selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The current Texas freshman brought a lot of attention to the small town.
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A year later and Carthage has yet another Army All-American. On Wednesday afternoon Edward Pope and his teammates gathered for an assembly in the school's field house for a ceremony where the 6-foot-3, 175-pound defender was officially invited to play in the game.
Pope has always looked up to Thompson so the chance to take part in the same game as his former teammate is a huge deal to him.
"It made me feel special," Pope said of the invitation. "I got to see my teammate play in it and he was a really good player. I never thought that I would be good enough to play in it too. Kendall was a really good player so it means a lot to be compared to him this way."
The humble Pope never expected he would have the opportunity to participate in the game that features 90 of the top prospects from across the country. In fact, he did not believe his head coach when he first delivered the news of the invitation.
"I didn't ever think I'd have a chance to play in the game," he said. "Last year as I was watching it I thought to myself, 'I'm not going to be able to play in that.' My coach told me about it this summer, that I had been invited, but I didn't think he was serious about it. He had to tell me a couple of times before I believed him. It really is just an amazing feeling."
Pope has had a chance to watch the contest over the years and knows the long history of the game that has produced numerous college and NFL stars. To know that he is able to be mentioned alongside a couple of players in particular is something that has made a big impression on him.
"Growing up I watched the game every year," Pope said. "I watched Adrian Peterson in it. He played against my brother (former TCU safety Jason Teague) in high school and he's the best running back in the NFL right now. I also watched Ted Ginn in it and he's one of my favorite players in the NFL.
"It means a lot to play in the same game they played in. I'm trying to follow in their footsteps and keep playing football all my life like they're doing. Just to be talked about with them is a huge deal."
Pope committed to TCU in February and is looking forward to having a chance to represent the Horned Frogs in the game. He will not be alone in doing so, though. TCU has only had one signee play in the contest to this point but will have triple that this year alone.
"Coach (Jarrett) Anderson told me there were two other TCU commits in the game," Pope said. "Tyler Matthews from Kansas, he's playing in it too. The other one is the punter, Ethan Perry. I haven't had a chance to talk to them about it but I'm sure we'll hang out all week."
Pope and the West team take on the East 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.