ANDERSON, S.C. -- It was a dream of Justin Meredith (Anderson, S.C./T.L. Hanna) to play in the Under Armour All-America Game.
Mission accomplished. But that doesn't mean Meredith still wasn't pinching himself when the American Family Insurance presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour made its stop at T.L. Hanna to present Meredith his game jersey.
"When I was younger, I saw guys from around here and players like Da'Quan Bowers play in that game," Meredith said. "That became my goal. It's surreal because that's now here for me."
It didn't come easy for Meredith, now the nation's No. 6 tight end and a four-star prospect. He always had the frame but worked extremely hard to develop himself, according to his father Chuck Meredith.
"Justin always had the height," the elder Meredith said. "We knew at a young age that he would be in that 6-5 to 6-7 range. But he was always thin and a little awkward. But I wanted to see what he could do with it. Justin hit the weight room hard, ate his protein and slowly grew into his body. He did the speed and agility thing and worked on his footwork and coordination . Eventually, he caught up with his body. Now, he's big and athletic. We are extremely proud of him. To be invited to play in this game is like icing on the cake. All that hard work has paid off for him."
In more ways than one. Meredith, 6-5 and 230 pounds, is committed to the University of North Carolina.
"I love the football at North Carolina," Meredith said. "I love the people and the university. There was just something about that place that I can't explain."
This season Meredith is playing on both sides of the ball. In fact, he's spending more time on defense than offense, which tells you something about his versatility and athletic ability.
"He's so big and so athletic," said T.L. Hanna coach Kenya Couch. "Justin has size and he can run. He's so versatile as a tight end of defensive end. This week he's going to play linebacker for us."
Make no mistake about it, Meredith likes playing defense but he loves playing tight end.
"I can do a lot of things at tight end," Meredith said. "I'm agile enough to stretch the field and I can block defensive ends and linebackers. When I get to UNC I want to play tight end. I love that position. But who knows what could happen. I could eventually be 280 pounds and the coaches could want to move me somewhere else."
Despite the uncertainty with the Tar Heels' coaching situation, Meredith seems solid with his decision to become a Tar Heel, despite not knowing if Everett Withers or any of the North Carolina coaches will be there once he gets to campus.
"It's tough on me and we as a family have discussions about that just about every night,"said Meredith, who plans on graduating early to enroll at UNC on Jan. 8, three days after the UA Game. "But deep down I picked North Carolina because of the university first. If there are changes I am still comfortable with my decision."
Despite the opportunity to play in the ACC and in the most prestigious all-star game in the country, Meredith takes it all in in stride.
"He has handled all the attention very, very well," Fouch said. "If you didn't ask him about this stuff you would never, ever know."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.