BRADENTON -- They're loaded with top recruits and armed with a high national ranking, but there was still a special feeling surrounding the podium Thursday at IMG Academy.
Ascenders football players Shavar Manuel, Saivion Smith, Rahshaun Smith and Ricky Aguayo were awarded game jerseys to honor their selection into the Under Armour All-American Game, which is moving back to Orlando for the first time since 2009. The all-star event will take place at the Citrus Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 2 at noon on ESPN 2. It was previously held at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
"It's just a great way to end your high school career," IMG head coach Kevin Wright said. "Because you get one week to not only play against the best players, but to get a chance to get to know each other. These guys are going to be competing against each other, probably next fall and when they go to those games, they're going to see guys that are either going to be their teammates or competing against each other (in college). That opportunity, I think, is a once-in-a-lifetime deal."
Offensive lineman Tyler Gerald, an Ohio State University commit, was awarded a jersey but was not in attendance.
Quarterback Shea Patterson, an Ole Miss commit, opted instead to play in the United States Army All-American Bowl, which is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 9, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Patterson said his choice came down to a family matter as his sister is pregnant and Texas is closer to family. Patterson also said close friends Tony Jones, a running back, and tight end Isaac Nauta's inclusion in the Army game was another a contributing factor.
"They kind of convinced me a little bit, too," Patterson said.
Patterson, though, was happy for his teammates who were honored Thursday ahead of Friday's showdown with nationally ranked St. Joseph's (Montvale, N.J.) Regional.
"It's just cool to see these guys and know they're achieving (for) some high school football team is pretty crazy," Patterson said.
In addition, linebacker Joel Dublanko was selected for the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, while Malik Barrow was tapped for the U.S. Army game, but suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is done for the season.
Wright, who has coached in the Army and Semper Fidelis games, will add the Under Armour to his All-Star game list.
Among the Ascenders going to the Under Armour game, Saivion Smith is the lone participant who spent last year at IMG.
"It's just a dream come true," said Smith, a defensive back committed to LSU. "It's a blessing. It's an honor to play in this game. Greats have played in this game. Dante Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves (and) all the greats." Manuel, a senior, is in his first season with the Ascenders, but is excited to join the prestigious game with some teammates
"We practice together. We bond together," Manuel said. "So it's just going to be another day at the office for us out there, having fun on the field and doing what we love."
Rahshaun Smith, who hails from Baltimore, is looking forward to playing in a game that will garner some national exposure.
"There's a lot of people coming from where I come from that grew up watching and never really having a chance," he said. "So for me having this chance, I definitely want to take full advantage of it and do it for the ones that couldn't be here."