NEW YORK - Five-star prospects Stefon Diggs, Dorial Green-Beckham and Darius Hamilton knew of each other when they arrived in New York City Sunday but had never met in person. By the end of the evening, the three were clicking like childhood friends, not just three guys who had grown into U.S. Army Player of the Year candidates.
Theirs is a unique situation experienced by only a select few, and understood only by those who have been through it. They share the common bond of being sought after by every major college football program in the country. Finding others who empathize with the pressures of being among the nation's top high school athletes allowed the trio relax and enjoy the Big Apple and Army Player of the Year festivities.
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"It's a great situation to be with a group of guys who are in the same situation as you," Diggs said. "It's nice to get to know these guys that you just hear about all the time."
Green-Beckham, from Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest, enjoyed the common bond.
"We're all going through the same process together, so we have all seen the exact same things," he said. "For me, where I came from, it's real important to be here in New York with this group of kids and get a feel for the place."
Green-Beckham lives a few hours' drive from mid-sized metropolitan areas such as St. Louis and Kansas City. Going from his Midwestern home to the country's most populous city was a big adjustment, but one the nation's top-ranked prospect relished.
"It's a new experience for a Midwestern dude to come out here to New York, to the big city, and see the things that he dreamed of seeing since he was a little kid," Green-Beckham said. "There's a lot of things out there that I would like to see and be a part of, and being here and playing in the U.S. Army Bowl is going to be real exciting."
Green-Beckham and Diggs are two of the six finalists for the U.S. Army Player of the Year award, to be presented the week leading up to the U.S. Army Bowl on Jan. 7. Hamilton, meanwhile, is a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year and the Antony Munoz Lineman of the Year awards.
Their tour through Manhattan kicked off with a dinner that coincided with the end of Sunday's late games in the NFL. Playing on the big screen above their heads was another Tim Tebow-led overtime victory for the Denver Broncos, an outcome that did not catch Green-Beckham by surprise.
"I kind of got a little feeling that it was going to happen," Green-Beckham said. "It seems like he has made a big difference since he got there. Tebow is a good player and he is leading his team this season. It just happens that he is picking it up at the end of the games and causing big plays for them."
Six years ago, Tebow sat in the same position as these three high school seniors, preparing to complete his high school career in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The excitement for that game was already building among Diggs, Green-Beckham and Hamilton as they donned game jerseys for part of their tour on Sunday night.
Hamilton, whose team at Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep completed an undefeated season earlier this month, said he's eager for his next football test.
"It's going to be a place where all the best athletes in the country come out and compete," he said of the Army Bowl. "It's where you find out what people are really made of and how you do under pressure."
There was little pressure Sunday evening as the trio took in the sights in midtown Manhattan. Appreciation and excitement ruled the day.
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"Usually I play it cool in all situations, but this is a new experience and something I enjoy," Diggs, from Olney (Md. ) Good Counsel, remarked. "I just want to say, 'Thank you.'"
Following dinner, the group walked down Fifth Avenue on the way to Rockefeller Center. Diggs is a noted fashion enthusiast and enjoyed the opportunity to be in the epicenter of the major fashion retailers.
"It was an experience," he said. "Hopefully I can bring my mom back one day and hopefully I can get the job done. I've been taking it all in because I've never been to a place like this."
Arriving at the studios for NBC's Sunday Night Football, Diggs, Green-Beckham and Hamilton had the opportunity to spend time chatting with hosts Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy.
Harrison, the former New England Patriots all-pro safety, was stunned by the high schoolers' size and jokingly asked what they were feeding kids these days after hearing the 6-6, 240-pound Green-Beckham played wide receiver.
Diggs talked about his conversation with Dungy, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach who is also well known as a strong voice for faith and family.
"I respect him a lot," Diggs said. "They say he mentored Michael Vick when he was going through his troubles. He comes across soft-hearted a little bit, and just sounded like a good guy."
The NBC studio tours also included stops on the sets of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Dr. Oz Show and Saturday Night Live. The latter brought out the dancing skills of Hamilton, who had previously been the most reserved of the group. Standing on the stage for a photo op, Hamilton broke into the Dougie Dance, which got a great response from his tour-mates.
"I'm a pretty reserved guy until people get to know me, then I open up," Hamilton said.
After just a few hours together, the trio of five-star prospects had all opened up and were enjoying their opportunity to live it up for a few days in the Big Apple. The tour continues through Tuesday and will include stops at several of the top attractions and events in Manhattan.
Stay tuned to Rivals.com for more updates from the New York City U.S. Army Player of the Year Tour.