Although there have been many high school all-star games throughout the years, the 2009 Under Armour High School All-America Game will be unique in how the teams and the coaches selected to lead them have been created.
Let's start with the coaching staff. It has been our goal all along to provide a rare and exciting experience for these young student-athletes that cannot be duplicated anywhere else or in any other all-star game, and it starts with our head coaches and coordinators.
Serving as the head coach of the Black team will be Mike White, the former head coach of the NFL's Oakland Raiders as well as a head coach in college at Cal and Illinois. White also served as a longtime NFL assistant and earned a Super Bowl ring with the St. Louis Rams in 2000.
His coordinators will be
Dave Levy on offense and Rex Norris on defense.
Levy won four national titles with USC and coached in eight Rose Bowls. He also coached in the NFL with San Diego and Detroit. Norris has more than 30 years of experience, including coaching in college at Oklahoma with Barry Switzer as well as stops in Florida, Tennessee and Texas. He also spent 12 years coaching in the NFL.
Head coach Marv Levy will lead the White team. He took the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. Sherman Lewis will run the offense, and George Dyer will handle the defense. Lewis has 34 years of coaching experience, including stints as the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. Dyer has more than 20 years of experience coaching in the NFL and coached in college at Arizona State and Michigan State.
The individual position coaches will consist of high school head coaches of players in the game. Each coach will be responsible for his respective position of expertise and will coach the team that his player is on. Coaches, as well as players, have an opportunity to work with and learn from one another and learn from the experiences of their teammates.
Selecting the coaching staffs was a little easier than selecting the teams. When breaking down the roster into two separate teams, there were three primary areas to consider: player grades and rank, verbal commitments and that the coach will have to work on the same team his player is on.
There is a reason the Under Armour All-America Game is not an East-West or North-South game. We are dealing with thousands of players, and depending on the individual class, one area of the country could be stronger and have more depth. That could lead to potentially lopsided rosters and an unfair competitive advantage for one team.
To prevent this, we broke up our roster by individual player grades and for coaching matchup purposes. Will players fail to perform up to the standard we thought they would? Of course. And on the flip side, many players will perform better than expected, making for ideal competition during the week. Remember, this is not an exact science, and with the 80 players selected, there are another 100 who would be worthy to play but were not chosen. There is no way to be 100 percent sure that the perfect team is selected.
Obviously, there were some tough decisions to make regarding on which team we placed each prospect. For example, look at the wide receivers. We had to take into account the size-speed ratio and do our best to make sure each team will have its fair share of deep threats as well as players who use size and strength to give each team red zone targets.
The defensive line also is a tough area to decipher because some guys play tackle and end. Some are undersized, while others are oversized. We needed to find the balance of talent, speed and bulk to stop the run and rush the passer for each side. We also had to take into account linebackers and whether they belonged inside or outside. We might use a player in a role that he might not play at the next level, but it will require him to display versatility during the week and in the game.
The quarterback position always is difficult to divide because with a guy like Russell Shepard (Houston/Cy-Ridge), one team will have a player who can do some things with his legs that the others can't. This provides scheme advantages and is why Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis), who is an extremely underrated athlete as a runner, was placed on the opposite team. Similar scenarios regarding the quarterback position also were considered. Although Shepard is in a different class as a runner, Josh Nunes (Upland, Calif.) and Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) get it done through the air.
Attempting to even out the rosters provides fair matchups and allows many prospects who might have heard of one another or know one another from camps, combines, visits, etc., to compete against one another and experience a different level of competition than they faced in high school. Ideally, it is a good thing for a wide receiver from Tennessee to get to know personally and competitively a cornerback from California and vice versa. Same goes for all other positions.
We were able to split up the teams by position according to the grades within a few percentage points while making sure each coach was working with the team his player was on. We also took into account verbal commitments and honored the request of every player who asked to be on the same team with other players heading to the same college. Even so, we still maintained the competitive balance that is paramount to the integrity of the game. If a prospect did not specifically request to be with future teammates, we still tried first to place him with players heading to the same school. But if that could not work within our parameters, the prospect was placed on the appropriate team to even the rosters.
The ultimate goal of the Under Armour High School All-America Game is for the players to have fun and compete, so we provide them with a fair landscape. We want them to play at their best, to use and learn from what the great coaches provide, and to take advantage of the amazing college of athletes around them. It will be the first time many of these players are truly challenged, and it will be a great test for them to find out where they stand athletically and footballwise.
The competition certainly will heat up both during the week of practice as well as on game day, but we think some relationships and lasting friendships will be forged as well. That's just one more reason this game is so special.