By Rob McIlvaineDecember 22, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Dec. 22, 2010) -- The U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the longest-running active high school all-American game, will showcase 90 athletes in an East-West match up at San Antonio's Alamodome in Texas on Jan. 8. The game will also be televised live on NBC and the Armed Forces Network at 1 p.m. that Saturday (EDT).
One of those high school all-star players will be paired with a Soldier Hero who also happens to be his half brother, sharing a father who was an NFL great.
In addition to the game, the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band, composed of 125 of the nation's top high school marching musicians - nominated by their band directors and auditioned by the National Association for Music Education - will perform at halftime.
"The Army is proud to celebrate the hundreds of athletes, musicians and Army-Strong Soldiers who have participated in the Bowl in the past ten years, and looks forward to welcoming a new group of participants and celebrating the 2011 game," said Col. Derik Crotts, director of Marketing and Outreach, U.S. Army Accessions Command.
Army Accessions Command is the primary sponsor of the game along with more than a dozen national businesses and organizations.
First played on Dec. 30, 2000, at Highlander Stadium in Dallas, Texas, the game has since been played annually inside the Alamodome.
Selection as a U.S. Army All-American is considered an important and prestigious honor for these athletes and musicians who embody the characteristics of the Army-Strong Soldier -demonstrating strength through loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage on a daily basis.
The bowl and Rivals.com, who ranks and selects the top players, has been so successful over the years that currently more than 150 former Army All-American high school players play in the National Football League, including more than 40 first-round picks.
Just as this bowl has produced NFL players, one former Oakland Raiders player has produced a high school gridiron warrior chosen for the 2011 Army bowl.
The son of feared Raiders safety George Atkinson - George Atkinson III - is making quite a name for himself in the defensive backfield.
According to Rivals.com, "he already has great size and could move down to linebacker if he adds more weight. However, with the speed he possesses now, Atkinson is an elite safety who stands out as a return man for Granada High School, totaling 1,200 all-purpose yards.
George "Butch" Henry Atkinson, a strong safety for the Oakland Raiders from 1968 to 1977 and current radio host of the Raiders' pre- and post-game shows, has raised his boys with the same love for the game. In fact, he took on the position of assistant coach when his twin boys, George III and Josh, began their varsity careers at Granada High in Livermore, Calif., in 2008.
"Even though my kids love football, I stress to them that life goes on after the game. They both have their dreams of playing for the NFL, but they know that getting an education first is more important," he said.
Both George and Josh will begin their college careers at Notre Dame this coming fall.
Playing football, George said, is just like being a Soldier. You need to be prepared mentally.
"The proudest moment, for me, was when I saw George III in his uniform, playing for the Pop Warner football team in California when he was about 11 years old. But then I'm proud of all nine of my children. They've all done well, from nurses and a lawyer to a Naval Academy graduate and an Army career," said Atkinson, who will be in the stands on game day.
Pop Warner, which requires strong academics, is the largest and oldest national youth football, cheer and dance organization in the U.S.
At 6'2" and 194 lbs, George will play defensive back for the West team.
"This is a definite honor to be selected to play. It's a dream come true," said George who wants to play for the NFL just like his dad, after he earns his degree in business administration.
When he was growing up, he picked up lots of pointers from his dad's teammates in the Oakland Raiders, but especially from his father.
"He always told me to believe in the game - to react, rather than think," George said.
Because a true gridiron warrior loves to play, George will take the field this weekend in the Fifth Annual Holiday Classic All-Star game between Sacramento and the Bay Area (Calif.) teams.
The Army bowl also serves as a time to honor, not only wounded warriors and veterans, but also the Army's Soldier Heroes who will participate with each high school player in a multitude of All-American Bowl game-week activities.
George's half brother, 1st Sgt. Jeremy Wright, 42, who was named his Soldier Hero, will be at the game cheering him on to victory.
"I called George and asked him if I could attend the game and the next thing I know I'm traveling to San Antonio, all expenses paid, as his Soldier Hero, from Fort Bragg, N.C., on Jan. 4," Wright said.
Jeremy, currently stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., has never stopped loving the game of football.
"Even though I had offers to attend college on a football scholarship, I joined the Army in 1986, figuring I'd do my four and then go to college," Wright said. That was 24 years ago.
While stationed in Italy, he played for the Venice Mariners, an Italian football team. He also coached high school football in Europe. After returning to the U.S., Jeremy began playing semi-pro football in North Carolina with the Fayetteville Ruff Riders, a member of the Mason Dixon Football League.
This nonprofit organization is committed to using the game of football to aid in economic development and affordable sports entertainment. He also played for an expansion team in North Carolina called the Horizon.
"Dad always told me that the game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, but I think I play a little rougher than he did," Wright said.
George Sr. was referred to by Pittsburgh Steelers' coach Chuck Noll as "part of the criminal element in football" when he gave Lynn Swann a concussion in two consecutive seasons.
"Even though I consider myself a smart 240 pounds, my career is winding down," said Wright, who is married with a 13-year-old child.
According to Brian Lepley, Army Accessions Command Public Affairs, each Soldier selected to be a hero has earned a medal for valor in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
"We choose these men specifically to share their Army story with these young athletes, to demonstrate the Army values, and to make a connection to someone who wouldn't have the chance to do so otherwise," Lepley said.
"Soldier Heroes are paired with players in order for both of them to learn about each other's lives. The Soldier and the elite high school football player live such unique but disparate lives. They meet each other Wednesday before the game, compete in a Player Hero Challenge and have dinner," Lepley said.
The Soldier Heroes will attend practice on Thursday and join the players at a barbeque that night. On Saturday, after an awards dinner on Friday night, each Soldier Hero will join his player during player introductions.
After the game, what does the future hold for the athletic Atkinsons and Wrights'
"I have two grandchildren right now who have the coordination and the ability to catch the football. And they're only 5 and 9," Atkinson Sr. said with a proud smile on his face.
This year's bowl promises to provide the thousands in attendance and millions more watching on NBC an unforgettable look at the future of college and professional football, according to Accessions Command.