San Antonio, Tex.--For Auburn commitment Ryan Pugh this week's U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio was to be a test of huge proportions. Rated as one of the nation's top centers despite playing his entire year at left tackle for Hoover High, Pugh came to San Antonio ready to show he could handle the job at center. So far Pugh has not only handled the job but he's been one of the top linemen in attendance as his East squad gets ready to face a talented West team Saturday at noon on NBC.
"I haven't taken a snap at center in five months since the first regular season game," Pugh says. "Getting back at center has definitely helped me. I'm doing a lot better than I thought I would do. It's one of those things like learning how to ride a bike, you're not going to forget how to do it. If you can play center you can play center. It all has to do with the snap. This week is going to help me more than anything I did in high school because you have to be quick to block the guy across from you."
Teaming up with Pittsburgh commitment Chris Jacobsen to anchor the East offensive line in the middle, Pugh has not only enjoyed his time on the field but off it as well. In his first trip to San Antonio Pugh says that while football has been the focus of the trip to this point he's really enjoyed his time leading up to Saturday's game.
"It has been one of the most fun weeks of football in my life," Pugh says. "You get to meet all these players from around the country and meet different people who have different philosophies on football. The coaching staff is really great. I like the coaches from Don Bosco (Prep school in New Jersey) and other places. The main thing that stands out is just the camaraderie between all the teammates in such a short amount of time.
"The contact is over now," he adds. "We've had six practices and we have really gotten after it. I'm not sure about the West because I haven't been to their practices but as far as the East we've been having tough practices and getting after it. The guys are getting worn down a little bit but wrestling has kept me in shape conditioning-wise. Now the week will start to wind down a little bit. We'll start having a little more fun, relaxing, and getting ready for the game."
Pugh works on his technique during Wednesday's practice.
Right away Pugh and his fellow offensive linemen were challenged by perhaps the best interior defensive line ever assembled in the U.S. Army game. Dominating defensive linemen Marvin Austin, Joseph Barksdale, D'Angelo McCray and Torrey Davis have made it a tough week but Pugh says that once the players settled in it has been all business on the practice field.
"Every one is a little tentative at first when you get out there because there are 80 football players in this game that are at the top of their games," Pugh says. "You starting thinking if you're really as good as they say you are. After you get out there on the practice field you start to feel your way around. You find out every one is about even. The bigger players will make the big plays in the game.
"Marvin Austin and those guys are really good," he adds. "They are the top players in the country for a reason. They are extremely athletic. I think everyone in the game would agree that when you get this many good players together technique is the thing that separates the good players from the great players. For the most part the athleticism has carried these guys in high school and the ones that have worked on their technique are the ones that are going to shine."
Auburn's second consecutive commitment in the game, Pugh says that he has really been moved by the work and effort put into the game by the U.S. Army in San Antonio. While he remembers the game and the Army's part in it Pugh says that seeing up close and personal the things they do makes him proud to be a part of the nation's top high school all-star game.
"A lot of people don't realize when they watch the game from an outside perspective just what the Army means to this game," Pugh says. "You get here and see the soldiers in their fatigues walking around, you know without them this game is not possible. The game of football is not possible without those guys giving their lives every day. You just thank them for what they do because I can't imagine what the world would be like without them. It's something a lot of people take for granted. It's just a tribute to those guys that put this on."