Sterling Bailey is one of the chosen few.
This Saturday, Bailey, an East Hall High defensive end, will be the first player from Hall County to compete in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
As one of 97 players that comprise the combined rosters of the East and West squads, Bailey, a University of Georgia verbal commit, will have the chance to play against the nation’s best on live national television at noon Saturday on NBC.
“This feels really amazing to be playing in the game,” Bailey said. “This is the biggest game of my life and I’m really excited to get to go out there and play.”
Now in its 11th season, getting selected for the U.S. Army All-American game is not an easy task. Past alumni of this game include Heisman trophy winners, NFL Pro Bowlers and a projected first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft in Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
The list of those who have played in the game in the past is quite impressive with Bailey joining the echelon of past players Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson, Mark Sanchez, DeMarco Murray, Percy Harvin, Ryan Mallett and Eric Berry, just to name a few.
“I’m very excited for Sterling and his family to go out there and have this opportunity,” East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. “This is a great opportunity and I know he’s put in a lot of work to get to this point.
“To be the first player from Northeast Georgia to play in this game is quite an honor.”
Bailey was invited to play in the U.S. All-American Bowl and accepted the opportunity during his junior year. Since then, it’s been a virtual countdown to play in the biggest game of his life. The chance to take in the sites and sounds of a new city, such as San Antonio, is just icing on the cake.
On the field, Bailey embraces the chance to line up with some of the hottest prospects in the country, including QB Teddy Bridgewater (Miami, Fla.), DL Ray Drew (Thomas County Central) and DB Damian Swann (Grady/Atlanta).
“I don’t really have any nerves playing in the game,” Bailey said. “I know all these guys are the best players in the country and I’m just focused on doing well in the game.”
For his part in molding Bailey on the field, Gray flew expense free to the center of all the action on Thursday for events surrounding the game, including welcome festivities and a coaching clinic. His main words of advice to Bailey leading up to this game were to let loose and enjoy the process.
Once the game starts Saturday, Gray will switch from tourist into fan mode to watch his now former player take the field.
“I told Sterling to go out there and just have fun,” Gray said. “I know he was put under so much stress this season since everyone expected him to make every play now that he has Georgia attached to his name.
“I know it hindered his enjoyment of playing this season, but now is his chance to just go out there and enjoy this opportunity.”
Another aspect players hype up for the game is the chance to make a declaration of which school they’ll attend during the game. According to Rivals.com, as many as 14 players will pick a school during the game. Naturally, Bailey has done a little campaigning for the Bulldogs with players like Drew, who have Georgia on their final list of possibilities.
“Yeah, I did a little recruiting here and there, but I don’t really know exactly what some of the guys will do in the end,” Bailey said.
With the flow of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the purpose is to get as many players on the field for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Therefore, players are less consumed with stats as getting face time with the cameras.
“I hope he can get out there for 25-30 plays,” Gray said. “He doesn’t have to worry about having to make every tackle on the field.”
Right now, Georgia has 16 commits for 2011, but several of the nation’s top prospects such as Swann, DE Xzavier Dickson and Drew, and WR Quan Bray are still possibilities for the Bulldogs. Players sign a National Letter of Intent on Feb. 2.