Gerard Martinez

Day one from the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

SAN ANTONIO — The West Army All-Americans took the field Monday under the type of sunny weather conditions normally found in Southern California, and with a dozen USC targets on hand, there were several notable performances.

USC commit Brett Neilon took the first day to solidify himself at center. This past season was his first time playing the position, and although it’s an easily overlooked aspect of the game in an all-star setting, Neilon stepped in and took every snap of practice for the West offense with Chatsworth (Calif.) three-star center and UCLA commit Kanan Ray injured. 

Neilon is a natural fit at center for the West, but also USC’s main recruiter behind the scenes. Rooming with fellow Trojan commit Stephen Carr, Neilon has been making the rounds in the players' lounge. 

He has specifically targeted Phoenix (Ariz.) five-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson. Neilon was rumored to be Jackson’s roommate this week in San Antonio, but that didn’t happen. 

“I wish,” laughed Jackson. “I’m rooming with Earnest Brown — a defensive linemen. I mean, Brett and I are always talking and hanging out in the players lounge anyways. 

“I’ve talked to all three guys committed to USC, but Brett is probably the best recruiter. He’s just more persistent. He doesn’t really recruit you. He gets to know you and talks to you, so you gel off that.”

Jackson officially visited USC Nov. 26, which was his third trip of the recruiting process. 

“I visited Washington, Oregon and then USC,” said Jackson. “I got Arizona State in the week after that, so the visit process has been good. I don’t think I’ll take a fifth visit. 

“I’m keeping everything low key, but right now, my top three are USC, Washington and ASU.”

With no more official visits planned, Jackson has a good idea of how he wants to get from three favorite schools to a commitment.

“Each school has something different to offer,” said Jackson. “I have two more in-home visits with Washington and ASU. Coach (Chris) Peterson comes in and then Coach (Todd) Graham comes in. 

“From there I should be able to make a decision. I should have a decision on a school a little before signing day.”

Jackson actually thought about committing in November, but his decision to wait gave him a more informed opinion of each school. That includes USC, the school his grandfather Melvin played football for.  

“Academically, the people and resources around me will be incredible,” said Jackson. “Even after football, I would be set for life. That’s something that’s very important to me.

“At USC, I also know that with the kids they’re bringing in, I’d be competing with the best all of the time. That’s a big plus. I also really like the direction Clay Helton has the program going in. I think that would be a good platform to play from.”

Jackson saw the Trojans platform go from 1-3 and uncertainty to a Rose Bowl birth. 

“They didn’t shut off from their coaches or themselves,” said Jackson. “It was a team effort. It shows a lot about the team and the coaches developing their players.”

Bolden ready to announce

While many Army All-Americans are wide eyed over the amount of talent of the football field first day of practice, Las Vegas (Nev.) four-star safety Bubba Bolden is less impressed. To be fair, Bolden plays for the nation’s No. 1 football program in Bishop Gorman and against a who’s, who  schedule of his school football teams. 

“We play against the best, but out here, I’m playing against the best and representing Bishop Gorman, the West and myself,” said Bolden. “It’s a great experience and I’m looking forward to making my announcement this week.”

Gerard Martinez |

That announcement will come down Jan. 7 at the Alamodome with USC, Ohio State and Florida as his final choices.  

“I’m excited to get it over with,” said Bolden. “Not that I wanted to rush it, but I’ve made the decision with my family and we’re excited to move forward with things." 

Bolden has an official visit schedule to USC for Jan. 13. At this point, he does not know whether or not he will take that official visit after his announcement. 

“I know where I’m going, but I don’t know what I’m going to do after my announcement,” said Bolden. “That’s to be determined, I guess.”

Hat on the table

Three weeks ago, it appeared USC was out of the running with Calabasas (Calif.) five-star Darnay Holmes. Yet, Holmes will have USC as an option come Saturday when he announces his college commitment live on NBC Saturday. 

“It’s exciting knowing that I will get to attend a four-year university that’s going to have networking, a great alumni base and great coaches,” said Holmes. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to achieve and I can’t wait to get ready to roll on Jan. 9. 

“Whatever school I attend they are going to get me right away. So I’m just ready to get the mission started.”

For those paying attention and scrambling for a hint as to where Holmes may be headed, UCLA starts winter quarter Jan. 9, while USC and Ohio State start their spring semester’s Jan. 9. 

Most sources still believe it’s a two team race between Ohio State and UCLA, however USC and Nebraska will also get hats on the table. 

“You can’t go wrong with Urban Meyer and Ohio State,” said Holmes. “They’ve got a lot of guys committed there like my boys Tyjon (Lindsey) and Trevon Grimes. 

“With UCLA, it’s the hometown school and they have Demetrice Martin there, who’s a great coach. 

“With USC, Adoree Jackson is my boy. He’s making great plays all over the field. Seeing him succeed there is a great thing.

“Nebraska… GBR. they have a lot of my best friends going there and you can’t go wrong reuniting the best buds.”

Gerard Martinez

Holmes didn’t dismiss the rumors that Ohio State has been the hot name associated with his commitment for the past month. 

“When you get recruited by one of the best head coaches, you can’t go wrong,” said Holmes. “On the outside looking in, when people see a top guy being recruited by Urban Meyer, you think he’s going there because Urban Meyer gets all of the great guys. 

“I’m just trying to make the best decision for me and my family.”

Day One Top Performers for the West: 

1. Defensive end Jaelan Phillips

Phillips dominated most of his one-on-one reps and even went so far as to play the one shade just for competition sake. 

2. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir

Lenoir certainly doesn’t stand out from a stature in the secondary, but his play against Joseph Lewis was stellar. He was one of the most physical cornerbacks is press coverage and was consistently good in every other facet of practice. 

3. Offensive tackle Walker Little

Little played left and right tackle over the two top ranked offensive tackles in the nation Monday. Little was excellent in one-on-one drills and was one of the only linemen to block 

4. Wide receiver Ty Jones 

Jones made several contested catches, which was a question mark about his game coming into the week. His catch against Darnay Holmes in one-on-ones Monday was a highlight play of the day.

5. Safety Greg Johnson

Johnson played safety Monday for the west squad and looked comfortable doing it. Moving over the slot and as a single high safety, Johnson had a couple of very nice pass breaks ups at different points all over the field. 

6. Wide receiver Joseph Lewis

Lewis was actually not scheduled to play this week. Showing up without pads in the morning session, Lewis still looked as smooth and fast as any wide out on the roster. This was actually his first time playing since being injured in October. 

7. Running back Stephen Carr

Carr ran behind No. 1 nationally ranked running back Najee Harris, but the USC commit seemed to grasp the offense better on day one and was used more in the passing game. In addition to making some nice catches, he ran with confidence and authority. Top Stories