Originally, there was only one national high school All-Star football game. Then there were two. Now there are three, and counting.
All of which means the sponsors of the three events--U.S. Army, U.S. Marines and Under Armour--are battling for the nation's top players as if it was a month before national signing day.
Who's going to play for whom?
The U.S. Army traditionally announces its roster before anyone else. Its 2013 squad includes only one Illinois product, wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He has at least 19 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Auburn, USC, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska.
The Marines-sponsored Semper Fidelis game has landed commitments from Michigan-bound offensive tackles Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis and Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual and the state's two top-rated quarterbacks, Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South.
But USC-bound Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, the No. 1 running back in the nation according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, and LSU-bound offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont, both of whom originally had committed to Semper Fidelis, changed their minds and decided to compete in the Under Armour game.
The Marines also have invited offensive tackles Jack Keeler of Barrington, who is committed to Wisconsin, Notre Dame-bound Colin McGovern of Lincoln-Way West and Kendall Moore of Simeon, defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West, defensive lineman Josh Augusta of Peoria Central and Illinois-bound running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods.
Augusta, who played on Peoria Central's Class 3A championship team, has emerged as one of the top prospects in Illinois in a relative short period of time.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder has 11 offers, including Illinois, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Memphis, Missouri, Nebraska and California. He also is attracting interest from Alabama, Oregon, Michigan State and Ohio State.
After heading the selection committee for the U.S. Army game for several years, Lemming knows it is important to nail down commitments as quickly as possible, even more importantly when there are three All-Star games competing against one another for the nation's best talent. He can't understand why the Marines haven't pulled the trigger faster than they have.
Sean Berry, CEO of Junior Rank Sports and founder of the U.S. Marine Corps' Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, admits the Marines' approach has been slow. But he predicts "big plans for this year." The game, which was played for the first time last year in Phoenix, is likely to move to Los Angeles this year and will be televised on NFL Network.
"We're getting the best football players, what people saw last year," Berry said. "They may not be the best ranked players (according to most recruiting services) but they are more competitive."
Berry pointed out that Lemming, chairman of the Marines' selection committee, picks players with NFL potential, not necessarily because they are ranked among the top 100 in the nation. For example, Bosch is rated as the No. 1 guard in the country based on his NFL potential.
Berry admits he is disappointed by Isaac's decision. Isaac has been involved in Berry's Junior Rank program since eighth grade. He attended the Marines' combine in Phoenix last January and Berry has a good relationship with Isaac's parents.
"Kids make decisions for a lot of different reasons," Berry said. "I don't think you'll see more than three high school all-star games. But, to be successful, you have to be that authoritative entity to say you can accumulate the best collection of players.
"How do you do that? Look at Tom Lemming's track record in terms of finding the best athletes. But some organizations throw a lot of free gear at a kid, as much as 2,000 worth. Sometimes kids are persuaded by the fact the game is being played in Florida. We think a lot of West Coast kids will be persuaded to participate in the Semper Fidelis game."
Meanwhile, Berry is planning for the future. He already is building relationships with four young and promising prospects in the Chicago area--6-foor-2, 240-pound freshman tackle Brennan Bosch, 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore wide receiver Brannon Barry and eighth-grade quarterback Justin Berry of St. Charles East and 6-foot-6, 250-pound eighth-grade tackle Eric Swenson of Downers Grove South.
Brennan Bosch is Kyle Bosch's brother, and Michigan is already expressing interest in him. Barry already is attracting interest from Oklahoma. Berry, Sean Berry's son, took an unofficial visit to West Virginia recently.
In the business of all-star football games, like recruiting, it is never too early to evaluate talent.