The world’s biggest football stage awaits on Sunday when the New England Patriots meet the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
The Patriots have a well-documented history of turning relatively unknown football players into stars. For every Randy Moss and Kevin Faulk (USA Today ALL-USA selections in 1994) that Tom Brady has had to throw to, there has been a Julian Edelman. So perhaps it stands to reason that, as they go for back-to-back titles (as well as for three in four years and six in 17 years), not one player suiting up for the Patriots on Sunday has had the honor of being an American Family Insurance ALL-USA Football selection.
The Eagles, on the other hand, will have five such players donning their winged helmets. All five players who are ALL-USA alums are scheduled to start for the Philadelphia, with four of them lining up on the defensive side of the ball.
(Each team has a former ALL-USA selection on injured reserve – for the Eagles, linebacker Jordan Hicks, an ALL-USA First Teamer at Lakota West (West Chester, Ohio) in 2009 before going on to Texas; for the Patriots, tight end Martellus Bennett, an ALL-USA First Teamer at Alief Taylor (Houston, Texas) in 2004 before heading to Texas A&M and then the NFL.)
From the 2011 ALL-USA Second Team, there is Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby. Darby shined at Potomac (Oxen Hill, Md.) before heading to Florida State. From there, he was drafted in the second round in 2015 by the Buffalo Bills. After two years in Buffalo, Darby was traded to Philadelphia last August.
Also from that 2011 ALL-USA Second Team, on the offensive side, is Nelson Agholor. Agholor played mostly running back at Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Fla.), rushing for 1,983 yards and 28 touchdowns while averaging 9.5 yards per attempt as a senior. He also played wide receiver, cornerback and safety before taking his talents to USC. After starring as a receiver for the Trojans, Agholor was selected 20th overall by the Eagles in the 2015 NFL Draft. In his pro career thus far, he has 107 catches for 1,311 and 10 TDs.
From 2010, there is ALL-USA First Team Defense member Timmy Jernigan, an Eagles defensive tackle. His senior year at Columbia (Lake City, Fla.), Jernigan had 77 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and one interception. He then starred at Florida State before being drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. He was traded to the Eagles in the offseason and recently signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension with the team.
The Eagles’ linebacking corps, meanwhile, has an ALL-USA veteran in 2007 First Teamer Nigel Bradham. Bradham was a standout at Wakulla (Crawfordville, Fla.), recording over 430 tackles and 20 sacks during his three-year varsity career. He then went to Florida State, from which he was drafted in the fourth round in 2012 by the Buffalo Bills. After four years in Buffalo, he signed with Philly in 2016.
Finally, there’s defensive end Brandon Graham, a 2005 First Team selection out of Detroit’s Crockett Tech. A highly-touted recruit, he went on to a prolific college career at Michigan that led to him being taken 13th overall by the Eagles in the 2010 NFL Draft. In his eight-year career, Graham has 277 combined tackles with 38.5 sacks.
For the record, Tom Brady’s last high school football season came in 1994. While Brady was not an ALL-USA selection at Junipero Serra (San Mateo, Calif.), here are some notables from that class.
Anybody playing in the Super Bowl most likely attained a heightened level of prep football success. But for those who were once declared among the nation’s best in their scholastic days, you must look to the birds.