The high school football galaxy just expanded by 80 stars.
That's because 80 of the nation's elite high school football players were selected to participate in the inaugural Under Armour All-America High School Football Game on Jan. 5, 2008 (2 p.m. ET, ABC) at the Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The game is the culmination of the players' high school careers, with 67 of the players in the ESPN 150 player rankings.
Wide receiver Julio Jones of Foley, Ala., the No. 1-rated player, headlines the star players, a group including six of Top 10 players in the ESPN 150.
The players represent 22 states, with football hotbeds of Florida and California contributing 13 players, while Texas has 12. Alabama and Georgia each have eight players in the game.
"It's going to be a week of football and fun," said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting coordinator for Scouts, Inc., which compiles the ESPN 150. "It'll have a bowl week feel to it. If the players are fortunate enough to experience this on the college level, it gives them a taste of what they can expect."
Players will arrive a week before the game with double sessions and team meetings scheduled but also opportunity to visit the nearby theme parks.
The Burger King Skills Challenge competition will take place for all positions, with the finals on Jan. 3 (delay broadcast Jan. 4, ESPN2, 6 p.m.).
"It's a unique opportunity to see some of the best in the nation tested on obstacle courses, showing off their agility," Luginbill said.
The players can also rely on a competitive game in the classic all-star format and top-notch coaching, meaning the players won't be assigned to teams based on the geographical location of their hometowns.
"We strived for competitive balance in the game," Luginbill said. "Some years states such as Texas and California are loaded with talent and the Eastern states aren't. We don't want a lopsided game."
Additionally, the coaching staffs are loaded with coaches who have earned Super Bowl rings, national championships and coached Heisman Trophy winners and Hall of Famers.
Ron Meyer, who was the head coach of the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, will head the Red Team. He will be assisted by Rex Norris (defensive coordinator) and Tom Rossley (offensive coordinator).
Jim Hanifan, considered the game's greatest line coach, will lead the Silver Team. Hanifan's coordinators are Dave Levy (offensive) and George Dyer (defensive).
Sixteen high school coaches have been selected for each team, including John McKissick of Summerville High in South Carolina. McKissick is the winningest football coach on any level with a 556-130-13 record in 56 years.
The Silver team features QB E.J. Manuel of Bayside (Virginia Beach, Va.); RB Jamie Harper of Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.); WR A.J. Green of Summerville (S.C.); DE DaQuan Bowers of Bamberg (S.C.)-Ehrhardt; CB Brandon Harris of Booker T. Washington (Miami); and S Dee Finley of Auburn (Ala.).
The Red squad includes QB Landry Jones of Artesia (N.M.); RB Jermie Calhoun of Van (Texas); Jones of Foley (Ala.); OT Tyler Love of Mountain Brook (Ala.); CB Burton Scott of Vigor (Prichard, Ala.); and S Will Hill of St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, N.J.).
"We've identified plenty of players in the ESPN 150 but we've also reached out to players who we've seen play and might be falling through the cracks on the national scene," Luginbill said.
Luginbill felt five players -- OT Mike Goodman of Columbus (Miami); RB Carlton Thomas of Frostproof (Fla.); QB Taylor Cook of Rice (Eagle Rock, Texas); Harper of Trinity Christian (Jacksonville); and DT Jewhan Edwards of Roman Catholic (Philadelphia) -- deserved the recognition with their stellar play this season.
Goodman (6-5, 270) will attend Boston College; Cook is headed to Miami (Fla.); Thomas will sign with Georgia; while both Edwards and Harper are undecided.
"Cook is a real sleeper," Luginbill said. "He's the type player we felt deserved to be in the game and Harper is an underrated as a running back can be."
The secondary appears to be the strength of the defense. Five of the nation's top seven cornerbacks and the top four safeties will play.
Here's a thumbnail of the top five rated players in the ESPN 150 scheduled to play in the Under Armour Game (evaluation are provided by Scouts, Inc.).
• WR Julio Jones, Foley (Ala.): "This guy is a unique, rare prospect for the wide receiver position with his supreme blend of size, power, speed and agility. He reminds us of a high school version of Michael Irvin, but at this stage Jones is more explosive and faster... For a big receiver, he is smooth and fluid and does not waste motion on routes or double moves.''
This season, he was named Alabama's Gatorade player of the year, with 68 receptions for 1,179 yards (17.3-yard average) and 16 touchdowns. Undecided on college but is considering Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida State, Florida and Texas Tech.
• S Will Hill, St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City): "This young man can play any skill position he wants and be an impact player at the college level at all of them. On defense, he is a headhunter with a great motor and ability to match up with speedy wide outs if necessary -- simply put, Hill is one of the most, if not the most, dynamic player in this class and is certainly the most versatile."
Hill was injured in last week's New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 state final against nationally ranked Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey). Hill suffered a high ankle sprain late in the first half but was ineffective in the second half. He is expected to be ready for the Under Armour Game. Hill will sign with Florida.
• RB Jermie Calhoun, Van (Texas): "He has innate run vision and instincts. He is a very good athlete with outstanding balance and control. He can realign his hips and feet when pressing the hole with very good cutback ability. Is ¬an explosive playmaker which can take a short gain and make an explosive play in open space. What makes Calhoun unique is that he is just as effective as an inside power runner as he is a perimeter runner."
Calhoun, the No. 1 running back, rushed for 1,908 yards and 30 TDs this season and accrued over 5,300 rushing yards in the last three season. Calhoun is headed to Oklahoma.
• WR A.J. Green, Summerville (S.C.): "Green is a flashy, tall (6-4), speedy wide out with huge upside. He has a great combination of size and speed, and he is an outstanding leaper and a tremendously smooth athlete for his size. He is capable of coming across the middle and snatching the ball away from his body and will absolutely make the acrobatic grab, but he also has the speed and naturalness to get deep, track the fade route and make a lot of big plays, especially in the red zone."
Green, the No. 2 wide receiver, will sign with Georgia. His team advanced to the state finals.
• DT DaQuan Bowers, Bamberg (S.C.)-Ehrhardt: "Bowers does not look like your prototypical defensive tackle prospect. He is tall, and while on paper he is undersized bulk wise, he seems to have good girth on film. He will need to add some bulk in college, but this is not your typical 265-pound kid. First off, he is quick off the ball. He has the ability to get off on the snap and quickly get penetration.''
Bowers, the top-rated defensive tackle, will sign with Clemson. This season he recorded 97 tackles, 33 for loss and 10 sacks and rushed for 1,215 yards and 19 TDs. He earned Gatorade's state year of the year.
Though the players know the rules, there will be a few subtle changes.
• Kickoffs will come from the 30-yard line (usually the 40).
• Kickers will use a one-inch block, one inch shorter than high school.
• Cover 3 or Cover 1 only on defense (three-deep zone or man-free zone).
• Four or five player rush (No more than three rushers on one side of the center).
• No blocking below the waist -- cut or chop blocks.
• No overtime; tie will end in tie.
• No huddle offenses are not permitted.
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.