SAN ANTONIO -- One of Zeke Pike's favorite motivational images is the FRS Health Energy commercial that features Tim Tebow.
"They said I couldn't be a high school quarterback," Tebow says in the commercial. "They said I couldn't get a Division I scholarship. You can't make it. You're not good enough. You're not skilled enough."
He ends the commercial by saying, "Appreciate that."
Pike isn't Tebow, but he understands Tebow's plight. The high-profile Auburn commit and high-three-star quarterback hears the same things said about him on a regular basis. In the eyes of many, Pike is as polarizing as you can get on the high school level. Root for him or utterly despise him.
Pike has built that reputation, and as he's matured over the latter months, he understands what he'll have to go through and what will need to be done to right wrongs. As he prepares for the upcoming spring workouts that will take him into Auburn, he's learned to answer all questions from his critics not with his mouth, but with his play.
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl can serve as an excellent springboard.
"It's definitely a proving ground for me," Pike said. "I look at that Tebow commercial. That's the stuff that fuels me. Twenty percent of the people are for you, and 80 percent want to see you fail. It's about accepting it and letting all that fuel you."
A second chance
Pike's senior year was tumultuous, as his off-the-field antics got in the way of his on-the-field accolades. He was suspended for Dixie Heights' first game of the year against Newport Central Catholic for reportedly being ejected in a playoff game his junior year.
He also was suspended for the team's Nov. 4 playoff game against Lafayette (Lexington, Ky.) for what Dixie Heights athletic director Matt Wilhoite called a "violation of team rules." Pike's Army bowl invitation ceremony was originally scheduled for Nov. 10 but was postponed to Dec. 7 because of the suspension.
In addition, Pike was the center of slight controversy over the summer thanks to comments made over social media. After committing to Auburn in April, he drew the ire of Alabama fans, getting into arguments via Twitter with Crimson Tide supporters.
All that negativity swayed followers from the fact that he threw for a little more than 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns, while also rushing for nearly 900 yards and a team-high 16 touchdowns. He also was invited to the Elite 11 camp, putting up a respectable showing as one of 24 of the nation's top quarterbacks who competed in Malibu, Calif.
At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, considered a pro-style quarterback with dual-threat capabilities, Pike feels like Saturday will be something of an opportunity to not only right wrongs, but also to prove he can play the game.
"You're not in this game because you're Joe Schmo. You're here because you're a good football player, and everybody who's playing is a pretty good player," Pike said. "It's about me proving my ground and proving that I'm the best quarterback in the country. Now it's time to prove to everybody watching the game."
Strong family backing
Pike said his father has been one of his biggest supporters -- when times were exciting and especially when times were trying.
Mark Pike was a linebacker who played 12 seasons in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills. He was considered a special-teams juggernaut for the Bills after lining up at both linebacker and defensive end in college at Georgia Tech.
"He's always been there supporting me, and he's been there to help me with my recruiting process," Pike said of his father. "He gives me all of his love and support."
Pike said the two weighed all the pros and cons of him attending Auburn, and he eventually chose the Tigers over offers from Michigan, Arkansas, North Carolina, Purdue, Clemson, Tennessee and a host of other schools.
There was something about Auburn, however, that stood out. He was recruited by Gus Malzahn and Trooper Taylor. Malzahn is the former offensive coordinator at Auburn who took a head-coaching job at Arkansas State. Taylor is an assistant head coach and wide receivers coach.
And before Pike gets the chance to showcase his skills at Auburn, he'll get a chance to show that, despite the rocky past, he belongs at the Army game with the rest of the nation's super-talented players.
"There have been so many great players who have played in this game," Pike said. "It's just an honor to be in the same category as those guys.
"It's a journey of a lifetime. When you're young, you watch the game on TV, and you think about playing in it, but you don't know if you're ever going to make it. It's just an honor, and it's something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life."
Playing with a purpose
Pike said receiving the invitation to play in the Army game meant more than just playing against top players on a nationally televised stage. The game -- as well as the entire week the players are in San Antonio -- reminds him all of the sacrifices the military makes for the good of the nation.
"I chose this game because it represents so much for our country," Pike said. "We're playing for a reason, where some of the other games are a little more fun and do a little more activities outside of football. Here, I think all of the guys are here for the right reason."
All of the players performed community service around San Antonio on Wednesday. Pike helped out with the Wounded Warriors Project, which assists the injured members of the armed forces, as well as rescue workers and volunteers.
It's work such as this that helps keep Pike grounded and reminds him why he is here. It also is helping him send a message to those who have their own reservations about him. He's not a monster or someone who thrives on arrogance. He's a young football player who is continuing to blossom into adulthood.
And with that comes maturity -- an area in which Pike has shown vast improvements.
"I can't please everybody," Pike said. "All I can do is go out and be me. While I'm here, I'm going to show I'm the best quarterback in the country and do my part with community service in giving back to those who have given for us. You really don't realize what the men and women fighting for our country have done until you get down here."
Damon Sayles covers recruiting in the Midlands for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.