SAN ANTONIO - The U.S. Army All-American Bowl brings together the finest high school football players and band members in the country for a week-long celebration of commitment and achievement as these future leaders train alongside the Army's finest. In addition to pairing the All-Americans with Soldier Mentors, the Bowl also welcomes back alumni of the annual game to showcase the success that follows being selected for this elite distinction.
Civilians, Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets, Army noncommissioned and commissioned officers alike return to the Bowl year-after-year to share their experiences after graduation. U.S. Army Capt. Scott Kelly and 1st Lt. Sarah Herrero are two such officers who have returned to the annual week-long event for a combined 18 years. Herrero's story starts when, then Cadet Kelly spoke to her about college ROTC programs.
"My mom was a commissioned officer but retired before I was born, so I didn't see the Army while growing up," said Herrero, a former All-American in the color guard and native of San Antonio. "The cadets here are what really pushed me to join ROTC, and here I am: 1st Lt. Herrero."
The mentorship throughout the week is one of the most memorable, life-altering influences for many of the students and returning cadets.
"The biggest aspect that sets this all-star marching band apart against other high caliber bands is the Army mentorship aspect of it," said Herrero. "It has such a deeper impact in the experience they have. My own life wouldn't be the same without talking to the cadets back in 2010."
Cadet Morgan Yankee, another returning All-American, hopes to motivate and guide the high schoolers while here. However, she's not at the Bowl to recruit.
"I'm here to be someone they can talk to," said Yankee. "I'm here to provide insight and show them the different options they have available with the Army or without. I was here in 2015 as a student and I remember being surprised with the passion that everyone here had for music and marching. Being here lets me be part of that again."
Herrero says: every mentor or Army advocate brings different perspectives to the table.
"Having Yankee here is especially important, because she can relate to other young ladies going through the ranks and through life in male-dominated environments."
Though she is in an operational role for the band during Bowl Week, Yankee takes every opportunity to motivate where she can and talk to students about college and ROTC.
"No matter if you're scared to take an opportunity, just go out and do it," she said. "It stands true in band, like these All-Americans during their audition, just like in everyday life. The biggest thing is to go out there and do it. If you don't get your opportunity, the worst thing that will happen is you'll learn and become better prepared for next time."
Cadet Jacob Steblein, a returning All-American and student at Virginia Tech, believes the differences these cadets make are immeasurable. His life of structure and discipline after high school "started as an All-American" in 2016.
Steblein, a native of Fairfax, Virginia, started his ROTC career after talking to cadets during his Bowl Week.
"After talking to them, I was sold," he said.
Herrero believes this is the purpose for mentorship.
"Being able to make even a small difference is what brings me back."