Amped up practices fuel West to win

SAN ANTONIO -- For many who were around the U.S. Army All-American Bowl activities the entire week, all bets were in that the West team would beat the East team in Saturday's game.

Not because the West had better talent. Not because the East had an inferior club.

You could tell that the game meant a little more to the West simply by watching practice. East practices featured walkthroughs in the morning and afternoon sessions at Heroes Stadium. The aura appeared more lenient and less stressful.

West practices, on the other hand, had more of a military, structured type of feel. Coaches yelled at the most elite players on the smallest of error. Players even got into it with each other on the field, not because they hated each other but simply because of the thrill of one four-star athlete battling another.

"This wasn't a vacation for us," said Zach Banner, one of the most sought-after offensive tackles at 6-foot-9 and 310 pounds.

"You may have messed up," added running back and Texas A&M commit Trey Williams (Houston, Texas/Dekaney), "but you got it back together and played better. That's what we did all week."

The result was the West defeating the East, 24-12, in front of 39,011 fans and the hundreds of thousands watching on NBC. From the opening kickoff, there was something about the West's aura that made you feel they'd be a little more amped for the game.

Part of that had to do with the sports adage of attitude reflecting leadership. Tony Severino (Kansas City, Mo./Rockhurst), the West team head coach, is a sparkplug in his own rights, someone who demands perfection from all of his players and someone who didn't accept mediocrity from any of his players.

"The coaches are intense," said linebacker Brian Nance (Euless, Texas/Trinity), who committed to Baylor on Saturday. "It was a lot of fun being here, but it was a lot of work. Our coaches meant business, and we meant business."

Defensive lineman and Michigan commit Ondre Pipkins (Kansas City, Mo./Park Hill), who had battles in practice with the offensive lineman -- primarily center and Texas A&M commit Mike Matthews (Fort Bend, Texas/Elkins) -- added: "In practice, we knew we had to go hard, and we wanted to win this game. We put our mind to it, and we did just that."

Highly-touted offensive lineman Kyle Murphy (San Clemente, Calif.) said he wasn't certain, but when practicing against the West defensive linemen, he thought the West was a little bigger than the East. The East's line averaged 254 pounds. The West's starting line averaged 277.5 pounds. The East's line, however, had more speed and agility.

"I think our guys were a little more aggressive in practice," Murphy said. "That helped us up front."

When the game ended, coaches were high-fiving players and congratulating them on an impressive victory. A couple of coaches gave hugs to players and showed their appreciation for pushing the players to the extreme all week long.

Turns out, it was all worth it.

"We practice to win; we play to win," Pipkins said. "Yeah, it's going to be on TV, and it's entertainment, but we wanted to win. That's the bottom line."

Damon Sayles covers recruiting in the Midlands for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at dsaylesespn@gmail.com.