SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Jan. 12, 2009) -- While the West team beat the East 30-14 in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Saturday before 34,126 and a national television audience on NBC, the real winner was the University of Florida.

The Gators got commitments from three of the biggest high school football stars playing in the 10th annual all-star game: running back/linebacker Matt Elam of Dwyer High School, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of George Washington High School, Philadelphia, Pa.; and game MVP Ronald Powell, a defensive end from Rancho Verde High School, Moreno Valley, Calif.

Powell's game efforts filled up both sides of the stat sheet:
collecting five tackles, forcing a fumble, registering a safety returning a blocked extra point, and a 23-yard touchdown catch while at tight end.

That score staked the West to a 7-0 lead with 3:48 left in the first quarter. The East's first chance at cracking the scoreboard came early in the second quarter as Michael Palardy, Aquinas High School, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sized up a 42-yard field goal.

The West line plowed through and Jesuit High School defensive back Keanon Lowe from Portland, Ore., blocked the attempt. Kaiser High School defensive end Josh Shirley from Fontana, Calif., scooped up the ball and dashed 77 yards for the West's second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

The East squad didn't really recover after that stunning turnaround. A scoreless third quarter followed before both teams scored two touchdowns apiece in a frantic fourth. East QB Cole Marcoux from Fieldston School, New York City, threw for both East scores.

Sponsored by U.S. Army Accessions Command, the All-American Bowl serves many purposes according to its commander, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley:
showcasing the nation's top high school football talent in their last game before college, connecting the American public and game participants to its Army, and publicizing Army opportunity via ROTC and enlistment.

"We recognized that the dynamics of soldiering and a commitment to playing and coaching football are similar, so we're proud to stage this celebration of these professions," Freakley said. "The coaching staffs, the 100 players, the band, all personify dedication, teamwork, and the ideals of being Army Strong."

While the game is the central event, the All-American Bowl week includes dozens of activities. An all-star marching band is assembled from across the nation and played at halftime. A football combine was run for 500 high school junior players as the Army prepares for the 2011 game.

Selected coaches from around the nation are also the Army's guests for the week.

For East offensive line coach David Ellis, the Maryville, Tenn., High School head coach, the bowl was a revelation.

"This is the first all-star game I've done in 32 years of coaching and it's a completely new experience," he said. "I'm spoiled because this was the best. The Army has been a wonderful host. All the folks that put this on have gone above and beyond."

The All-American Bowl is one of two national high school all-star games and players of this caliber face a choice. The competing game's sponsors, ESPN and Under Armour, are formidable organizations that young athletes revere. But the pull of representing the Army also has a powerful appeal to many.

"In my opinion there's only one game. This one means something because we're doing it for the Army," said Nick Forbes, a linebacker from Johnson High School, Frederick, Md. "I honestly feel like by being in this game, I'm promoting our Army and our country. It's good to be a part of this experience."

(Brian Lepley serves as the Army Accessions Command PAO.)