By: Jim Halley, USA TODAY High School Sports | December 6, 2017
Brian Hightower, T.J. Pledger, Taron Vincent, Brendan Radley-Hiles and Xavier Thomas only played together one season at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), but they’ve built a tight bond that will include their final high school game at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 6.
The quintet received their honorary U.S. Army All-American Bowl jerseys Wednesday at their school as part of the Army All-American Bowl Selection Tour presented by American Family Insurance.
Three of those players—Hightower, Pledger, and Radley-Hiles—played on all-star youth teams together in Southern California growing up.
“It’s a blessing to be able to play together one last time,” Radley-Hiles said. “We all came together at a young age. Brian committed to the (Army) game first and then T.J. and I committed to the game on the same day. The three of us have played in all-star games since the seventh grade.”
Hightower, the No. 30-ranked wide receiver in the 247Sports composite rankings, is headed to Miami.
Pledger, the No. 3-ranked all-purpose running back, has committed to Oklahoma. Brendan Radley-Hiles, the No. 9-ranked cornerback, recently decommitted from Nebraska and will announce his choice during the third quarter of the Army game between Southern Cal, UCLA, Oklahoma and Clemson. Vincent, the No. 1-ranked defensive tackle, has been an Ohio State commit since last spring and Thomas, the No. 1 strong-side defensive end, is headed to Clemson.
The five seniors played their last regular-season game on Nov. 11, when the Ascenders wrapped up an 8-0 season, but none said they expect to be rusty.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” Hightower said. “We have been training hard together.”
“I definitely feel better compared to the last three seasons,” Pledger said. “My body is fresh right now.”
Pledger said while he’s recruiting Radley-Hiles, he’s really looking forward to closing his high school career with friends.
“Although we only played one season, I am with these guys day-in and day-out,” he said. “It’s really a brotherhood.”
Thomas said he’s also working Radley-Hiles.
“I’m trying my hardest to get him to go to Clemson,” Thomas said. “I’ll be happy with whatever choice he makes. Either way, we’ve all talked about wanting to play one last game together before we go to college.”
They will be among the nation’s top players competing at the U.S Army All-American Bowl, which kicks off Saturday, Jan. 6 in San Antonio at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.
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