The announcer took center stage, pulled his microphone down from the sky and bellowed... "Let's get ready to rumble!!!" and the fight, uh football game began. That is until someone in the stands shouted... "This is a football game!" Oh, that's right, I almost forgot. Don King wasn't the promoter, HBO wasn't handling the pay-per-view and Fox hadn't lit up it's WWF sign. No. This was a football game - a High School All Star game... that rivaled any CNN coverage of the war in Afghanistan.
The kings of this rumble in the jungle and who never forgot it was a football game were Gavin Dickey, Fred Matua, Darnell Bing, Marcedes Lewis, Dallas Sartz, Aaron Miller, Tre Smith, Albert Toeania, James Finley and of course Hershel Dennis. The one person who thought that the Xtreme was still in business, who as one spectator said, "...did enough in one evening to be thrown out of three leagues for an entire season" was Florida's Lonnie Davis. Oh well, into each day a little rain must fall. On with the show...
All the kids that play in this game are stars, so to single any out is almost unfair, but it would do an injustice to not turn the spotlight on a few: Gavin Dickey simply put, has got game. He is fast, has a solid mid-range arm and works as well in the pocket as out. Add to that a real combination of heart and intelligence and you've got a winner. Amongst a slew of speedsters and monsters, he stood out. He connected on a 50 yard bomb, then followed it with a qb keeper around end that required a lowered head to finish it off. The first person up, following the full speed collision was Gavin, who howled with pleasure the way a surfer might after an awesome wave. All he wanted was more. The school that ends up with him, be it USC, Clemson or Florida has itself a marquee player. He is fun to watch.
Player number two, has got to be the workhorse Hershel Dennis. You can't say enough about this young man on an off the field. He is a go to guy who gets stronger as the game goes on. It's as if, by the the fourth quarter, he is just warmed up. The California team lost today, but I watched Hershel on the sidelines, hoping his defense could hold on fourth down so he might get the chance to score one more time. He led the first half in rushing with 50 yards on 11 carries and then came alive in the second, breaking off a few big gains. Kids don't come much better than this and any school who gets him has got their team leader for the next four years. USC is among his final three along with Washington and Oregon. He wants to be a Business Major and seems like staying in Los Angeles would suit him, because of family. He also mentioned that he will graduate from Poly early and hopes to join his future team as early as possible. He has some trips left and as of now his decision is not made. Good news for the Trojan Family.
Without a doubt, the monster on defense was Fred Matua. Nicest young man one could speak to off the field, not a person you'd want to line up opposite of in a game. Forget having a motor, try a locomotive - the kid churns. He has a few trips left, but wants to find a program he can fit into. He is not concerned about redshirting, as Hershel mentioned as well, but needs to be with a team he calls family. It would seem that he and Ed Orgeron would be a match made in Heaven. They certainly are peas in a pod when it comes to game day enthusiasm. SC needs this kid as much as anybody left on their recruiting wish list.
Next up has to be Marcedes Lewis. Yes Trojans fans, groan in unison, because we lost out on the prize. If anyone looked at what SC was able to do with the Tight End this year and then thinks of this 6'7" 240lb., 4.5 running young man, all you can do is sigh. He is a man among boys, in fact when asked during the game about the heavy hitting his response was "This is kid's stuff. Just kids playing. Next year, that's when it gets real." And if anything is real, it is Marcedes. The only thing that limited his play was the coaches not calling his number more often. He caught everything thrown to him, made excellent yards after the catch and even threw a perfect 40 yard TD to James Finley.
He is well spoken, aggressive and ready for the next level of ball and beyond. He will erase all memories of Bruin Tight Ends within a matter of weeks. If you think I'm singing too high of praise, we can wait and see.
Darnell Bing flexed a little muscle and was clearly a crowd favorite. He handled one kickoff return and juiced it for about 35 yards, maybe more. Watching him run, at 6'3" and 220lbs. made a few of the Trojan faithful in attendance think bigtime tailback, as much as Safety. In speaking to him, he wants to be a Communications major and is hungry to get a chance on offense, something that eluded him during his time at Long Beach, Poly.
Aaron Miller, who won Defensive Player of the Game looked as good as advertised. He is a good sized DB at 6'0" and 170 lbs. This kid was all over the field and simply shut down the stuff that came his way. Unfortunately for Trojan fans at this point Miller will choose between UCLA and Oklahoma. But it was the consistent play of Dallas Sartz that drew my attention. Dallas needs to put some pounds on, but he is a super smart hard hitter. He reminded me of a taller, leaner version of Matt Grootegoed - always around the ball and always arriving with a heavy hat. He might be USC's next Jason Sehorn.
There are always loads of players to talk about. It seemed as though everyone brought their "A" game. This had to be the fastest, most aggressive All Star game in a while. The Cal-Florida matchup is heating up to be a major national rivalry. Overall the two teams were well coached. The weakness brought on by California not having Jackson or Justice on the OL, clearly hurt in the late going. It was also apparent that kids like Justin Wyatt were clearly missed over some of the late replacements brought in.
Among SC players, of current and past glory, in attendance were Travis Hannah, Curtis Conway, John Jackson, Martin French, Matt Leinart, Billy Hart, Darryl Poston, and Mike Patterson. There were a few others, but my memory escapes me. There were no Bruins in attendance, unless you count JP Losman, who was once a Bruin QB.
As both a fight and a football game, this year's All Star Classic was worth the price of admission. There was more speed and heavy hits then of any previous High School match up that I can think of. The coaches pulled a few tricks out of the bag and also got the most from the players who had been getting it done throughout the regular season, like Dennis and Dickey. It was a nice crowd that got most of it's supporters from Long Beach Poly parents and fans. All in all it was an excellent chance to see the stars of tomorrow, playing today in an excellent match up.