Former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci recalls a moment last year at the Under Armour All-America Game during which he stood on the sideline alone and observed a group of players on the turf at Tropicana Field.
"I said to myself, 'Boy, would I love to have that bunch right there for two years in college,'" Mariucci said this week. "You'd win a national championship."
The 56-year-old Michigan native coached the San Francisco 49ers to four playoff appearances from 1997 to 2002 and also spent three seasons in charge of the Detroit Lions. Now a commentator for the NFL Network, he led his team of top college prospects to a win last year over their Mike Ditka-coached opponent in the high school all-star game.
"I had such a great time," Mariucci said. "I was hoping they would invite me back."
They did. Mariucci will coach opposite former eight-year NFL head coach Herm Edwards in the fifth annual Under Armour All-America Game (Jan. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) in St. Petersburg, Fla. The game features more than 90 of the nation's premier seniors.
Practices begin Sunday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
Mariucci offers some wisdom for Edwards: Stand back and let the players work their magic.
"I was so impressed last year with the talent of the high school players," Mariucci said. "They didn't look like high school players. The thing that struck me is that they're just special kids."
Edwards, for his part, wants to make an impact.
He plans to travel to Florida on Friday as the players begin to arrive. Edwards, 57, an NFL commentator for ESPN who coached the New York Jets from 2001 to 2005 and the Kansas City Chiefs from 2006 through 2008, will bring his 5- and 6-year-old daughters to Orlando.
"They're going to Disney World," Edwards said. "I'm going to wrap my arms around these [players]. I'm going to be involved. I'm not the figurehead. I'm not coming down there to go the parties. I want to give them words of encouragement, words of advice."
His message? "Your journey is about to begin. Your clock is about to start."
"I'm going to shoot straight with them," Edwards said. "I'm going to tell them, because they need to hear it, 'Don't tell me what you did in high school, partner, because it's got nothing to do with the next level.'"
"I expect them to be talented. Physically, most of them will be good enough to play right away in college. But emotionally and experience-wise, they won't be. How do they handle that? That's going to be critical. Their priorities have to change, and I don't think most kids realize that."
This kind of duty is nothing new for Edwards. He's operated a camp for many years in California and worked with youth in Kansas City. In August, ESPN's "SportsCenter" featured Edwards in its "Back to School" program, in which he spent a day as a guest coach at his alma mater, Monterey High School in California.
Edwards said he feels tremendous admiration for his school coaches.
"The good ones," he said, "they leave an impact on you. You learn a lot of vital life lessons in that time."
With less than a week to spend around the Under Armour All-Americans, Edwards and Mariucci must work quickly to leave an impression.
Don't rule it out, though, especially if the players come ready to listen. After one brief meeting with Mariucci at an Arizona camp, Texas-bound quarterback Connor Brewer of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he's ready to spend more time around the QB guru.
Mariucci, in his time as an NFL head coach and assistant, worked with Brett Favre, Steve Young and Jeff Garcia, among others.
"He knows all about the position," Brewer said. "I'm excited to spend some time with him."
Mariucci plans to arrive Monday in time for the second practice session. To get there, he's flying overnight from Los Angeles after working in studio on the final Sunday of the NFL regular season.
For what it's worth, Mariucci beat Edwards in their only meeting as head coaches, a 19-17 San Francisco win over the Jets in 2001.
"I can't wait to get out there," Mariucci said. "After coaching one of these games, it was fun to watch some of the kids play as freshmen in college. I'm already looking forward to draft day and at the NFL combine, where I know I'll get to see them again."
Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman