- Mitch Sherman, College Football
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Nearly 60 football players have already pledged to play in the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game. Poll them on their motivation to participate in the event, and you'd likely receive about 60 different answers.
That's the beauty of the Under Armour Game and the week of practice prior to it -- it offers something different for every prospect involved.
Just listen to them.
"There's just something about that game," said linebacker Reuben Foster of Auburn, Ala. "It's an accomplishment. You have fun. It's a reward. You get to compete."
Foster, an Alabama commitment and recent transfer to Auburn High School from Troup County in LaGrange, Ga., helps headline a list of 59 Under Armour All-Americans -- 57 of whom are also among the ESPN 150. Foster sits No. 2 on that list, behind top-rated Robert Nkemdiche (Loganville, Ga./Grayson), another Under Armour All-American.
When the rosters are complete, the sixth annual Under Armour Game will include 90 of the nation's top seniors.
The game last season, played Jan. 5 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., after practices at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., featured former NFL head coaches Steve Mariucci and Herm Edwards in addition to 10 of the top 12 players in the final ESPN 150.
For Nkemdiche, the game presents an opportunity to play in front of his mother, Beverly Nkemdiche. A representative in the congressional assembly of the Nigerian state of Anambra, she plans to attend.
"That's important to me," Robert Nkemdiche said. "It's going to be a great experience, but it's not like playing for a state championship. I've got a lot of respect for the top guys out there, but football is football. Who thinks about ranking on the football field?"
Well, perhaps Foster. He'd like to strip the No. 1 position from Nkemdiche, an uphill climb considering Nkemdiche's status as the consensus top prospect.
"I want the No. 1 spot," Foster said. "I'm going to try to work my way up there and take it, because I'm a competitive dude. He's No. 1, so I'm going to have to work extra hard."
For others, the game brings a chance to represent their home states and high schools.
"Everybody thinks the players from small schools can't compete with those guys," said Alabama pledge O.J. Howard (Prattville, Ala./Autauga Academy), a tight end ranked No. 43 in the ESPN 150. "I know I can, and I want to show what I have. I thought this was the best opportunity for that."
It's also the right time to show well for your future college program. Ten Texas pledges played in the 2012 Under Armour Game, joining forces on the Black Team, which lost 49-16.
Michigan quarterback recruit Shane Morris (Warren, Mich./De La Salle Collegiate) hopes for a better result if the UM pledges band together. So far in the selection process, six commits represent the Wolverines.
"People are going to see that we're ready to do something special at Michigan," Morris said.
Four Auburn recruits have been selected, alongside three Florida commits and two apiece from Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Texas A&M and Penn State.
Future Nittany Lions QB Christian Hackenberg (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union Military Academy), rated No. 2 among quarterbacks nationally and 11th overall, said he wants to perform well for Penn State in the wake of its turbulent year.
Hackenberg said he also expects to find time to bond with Morris and the other quarterbacks in attendance. Five of the top eight QBs in the ESPN 150 are already on board for the Under Armour Game.
"I think it's going to be neat to compete against them but also to work with them and know that we're going to college the next year," Hackenberg said. "We may play against each other at the next level, whether it's a bowl game or in the regular season.
"I think it will be a cool time to have fun with the guys and help each other out -- but, of course, to compete."
Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley (Crescent City, Fla./Crescent City), No. 18 in the ESPN 150 and pledged to Florida, chose the Under Armour Game over an invite to Army All-American Bowl.
Brantley said he's followed the Under Armour Game since shortly after its inception in 2008. Less than four months ago as he watched the practices on ESPNU, Brantley knew it was the spot for him.
"I could see the athletes having fun out there," he said. "It's a good place to showcase your talents against the top athletes in the country.
"They were getting after it. I feel like that's a great place to see where my talent level is at. I want to see how I match up against that."
The top two ESPN 150 prospects, Robert Nkemdiche and Reuben Foster, highlight an already-loaded Under Armour All-American Game, writes Mitch Sherman.