SAN ANTONIO — The 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl was a barn burner, with the West squad ekeing out a 39-36 victory that went right down to the wire, thanks to a remarkable comeback by the East. In the process, nine top prospects committed to schools and thousands in attendance took on the latest iteration of America’s longest running prep football All-American game.
Here are some of the big takeaways from Saturday’s big game:
1) Quarterbacks in the SEC East should be very afraid
It wasn’t enough that the top two uncommitted defensive end recruits in the 2015 Army All-American Game — Kyle Phillips and D’Andre Walker — both committed to schools in the SEC East. When each decided to stay close to home, Phillips at Tennessee and Walker at Georgia, the made for a truly fearsome duo at both schools. Phillips will team up with DT Kahlil McKenzie to make a two-man wrecking crew up front, while Walker will form a similar tandem with Trent Thompson. Those four were arguably the most intimidating defensive linemen in practice all week, and if they keep progressing at pace, they could give major headaches to passers across the conference come Fall 2015.
MORE: West holds off East
2) The Class of 2015 is full of explosive playmakers
If there was one thing that stood out this week, it was the sheer number of players with the ability to briefly take over and make a transcendent play against the best opponents in the country. Saturday’s game was a case in point, as Tavarus McFadden’s late touchdown return made clear. McFadden’s touchdown was the first on a return since 2004. In the return game, fellow East super-athlete Tim Irvin, he of the new Longhorns cap, also had an eye-opening return. Then there was West quarterback Travis Waller, who showed a penchant for making the big pass and an elusiveness when he broke containment. If Waller’s performance was any indication, the Oregon Ducks might not need to worry quite so much if Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota departs for the NFL.
3) Momentum is real in recruiting, and it is spectacular
Want real-time proof that momentum carries major weight in recruiting? Just check out what’s been going on in Austin over the past week. Following the commitments of De’Andre McNeal and Malik Jefferson, the ‘Horns have added Anthony Wheeler from the Under Armour All-American Game and four stars from South Florida: Davante Davis, Cecil Cherry, and, on Saturday, Devonaire Clarington and Tim Irvin. That influx has moved them into the top-1o classes in the nation.
Anyone who thinks the additions of Ykili Ross and Marvell Tell won’t give USC a major boost is missing the bigger picture. Here’s what linebacker Porter Gustin, who spoke with USA TODAY High School Sports after the West squad’s victory, said about watching the future Trojans pair put on their USC hats:
“Of course that’s good to see,” said Gustin, the game’s defensive MVP who has USC as one of his finalists. “It makes you feel good knowing that there are great players that are going to one of the places that I could end up.”
Yes, another of Gustin’s finalists, Arizona State, added an Army All-American on Saturday, too, but the Trojans were the breakthrough recruiting winner, and they’re the team on the rise.
Watch this space, because it would be no surprise to see the likes of Gustin and other top undecided recruits follow in line.
4) You can’t keep a top-quality All-American down
Let’s face it: The East squad had a horrible first half. Everything went wrong, from botched snaps to telegraphed interceptions returned for touchdowns. You name it, it seemed to happen. Yet the East never got down. The ultimate proof? Quarterback Drew Lock, a Missouri pledge. Lock’s first half included an interception, fumbled snap and just about anything else that could go wrong. When he came back in the fourth quarter with the East squad desperately trying to mount a comeback, he botched the first handoff. The very next play went for a touchdown and, following an onside kick, Lock immediately threw the pass of the game, a picture perfect, 50-yard bomb for a huge touchdown that well and truly made it a game.
The lesson? Sometimes even the best players have to grind it out … and the Class of 2015 is full of grinders, starting with Lock.
5) All-American games really can be a great contest
The 2015 Under Armour All-American Game? A stinker in terms of the score. The past U.S. Army All-American Bowls haven’t been too much better. There were two prior Army Bowls decided by a field goal (the first game in 2000 and the 2011 edition), but neither had anywhere near the excitement of Saturday’s matchup. It certainly didn’t feel like we’d get such a dramatic denouement when the West squad raced to a dominant first-half lead, but, for a change, the opposing team really dug up some fightback. Needless to say, the rally was richly appreciated by the fans in attendance, who audibly groaned when the East squad missed out on its final onside kick attempt.
All in all, a richly entertaining afternoon. More like that, please!