Naples High School football coach Bill Kramer received VIP treatment at Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 in Jacksonville.
“They put me on a cruise ship,” said Kramer, who guided the Golden Eagles to state championships in 2001 and 2007. “I had access to everything, all the celebrity stuff, a pregame talk by Phil Simms. It was the whole shebang.”
None of that, Kramer said, could compare to what he has been experiencing this week in San Antonio, site of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, to be played at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome.
“I’ve been VIP’d at a Super Bowl and it wasn’t this nice,” Kramer said. “This has had every bit of that and more.”
Kramer, who coached Naples to a 12-1 record this season, received an invitation from the game’s organizers early last year to help coach. He readily accepted a spot as the running backs coach for the East team. By doing so, Kramer will become the first coach from Southwest Florida to coach in the game, which began in 2001. The NFL has drafted 209 players who were named to the game’s roster.
“I have such a great staff,” Kramer said of his Naples assistant coaches. “They’ve made me look good for a long time. Somebody noticed. They called me last spring and asked me if I’d be interested in coaching it. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ “
Immokalee High senior cornerback Mackensie Alexander will play for the East team, becoming the sixth player from Southwest Florida to do so.
“This is the best of the best in the country,” Kramer said. “It’s truly an honor to be here. The Army guys are involved. We’ll be working with the Wounded Warriors later in the week. It’s a remarkable to feel the humility here. I’m just really humbled to work with guys as good that are on this staff.
“It’s truly impressive, the level of commitment that this event has been given. It’s just thrilling to see how much they appreciate this event.”
Kramer gets to work with the likes of Derrick Henry of Yulee High. Henry rushed for 482 yards on 58 carries in November during a Class 4A playoff game against Taylor County. Henry, a 6-3, 245-pound University of Alabama recruit, set the national rushing career yardage record. His total of 11,610 yards broke the 59-year record of 11,232 yards set by Ken Hall, “the Sugarland Express,” in 1953.
The other running backs on the East roster are: Greg Bryant of Plantation American Heritage, Derrick Green of Richmond, Va. Hermitage High, Tyren Jones of Marietta, Ga. Walton Senior High and Taquan Mizzell of Virginia Beach, Va., Bayside High.
“It was readily apparent when we had our first team meeting on Saturday night,” Kramer said of the elevated skill level. “A lot of these guys hadn’t played football in a month. We had some rust to knock off. Their football IQs are extraordinarily high. On either side of the ball, they don’t require much to have something spectacular to happen.
“The size of the players, both sides, every position, there’s no one physically overmatched. If you’re talking about the look test, everybody passes the look test. We’ve got a punter who’s like 6-2, 200. He’s a house.”
The game’s organizers put together a whirlwind schedule for the week that includes seven practices, a number of meetings and other events for the players and coaches alike.
“They just tell us where to go and when to go,” Kramer said. “We want to win a football game on Saturday, on national television, right before the wild-card (NFL playoff) game on NBC. To me, the main thing is that game and winning. I’ll do what I’m supposed to do, but I’m focused on getting my guys ready to play.”