After a year of preparation and anticipation, the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl Week, which ran from Dec. 29, 2011, to Jan. 3, 2012, represented a successful foray into the high school football world for the Marine Corps and Junior Rank.
Shaon Berry, a youth football coach and former University of Pittsburgh running back founded Junior Rank in 2008. The goal of the program is to develop the next generation of student athletes through education, evaluation and instruction.
The Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, an East-West format game, was the culmination of Junior Rank’s yearlong partnership with Marine Corps Recruiting Command.
“We believe this is an opportunity to really impact America and return better citizens in the form of student-athletes,” said Berry, CEO, Junior Rank. “We were excited to partner with the Marines because they represent everything we want our student athletes to be.”
Throughout 2011, Junior Rank and MCRC partnered for 21 Diamond Flight football camps and the nationwide Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl selection tour.
Football players from middle school age all the way up to high school seniors attended the Diamond Flight camps. During the camps, players had the unique opportunity to learn from former NFL players and some of the best football coaches in the country. Assisting the coaching staff during the camps were Marine Corps drill instructors, who instilled discipline and taught leadership skills to the student-athletes.
“What the [drill instructors] brought to our camps was a level of intensity that most of these young men hadn’t seen before,” said Berry. “Most of these young men have aspirations to play college football. What we share with them is the intensity and character displayed by Marines, which is what they'll need to display in order to achieve success on and off the field."
According to the commanding general of MCRC, the partnership between the Marine Corps and Junior Rank was one based on the shared values of both organizations.
“The reason we decided to partner with Junior Rank was because the program is very concentrated on the character of the student-athletes,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commanding general, MCRC. “They share our Marine Corps core values of honor, courage and commitment.”
Unlike other high school All-American bowls, where the selection criteria is often limited to performance on the field, student-athletes chosen to play in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl were required to demonstrate outstanding character, leadership and academic excellence.
Student-athletes participating in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl arrived in Phoenix Dec. 29, 2011, registering and receiving their pads and uniforms. For the next four days they attended practices, a short preparation time for players who in almost all cases had never played together. The East team practiced at Arcadia High School in Phoenix while the West practiced at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Practicing alongside Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl players were seventh and eighth Junior Academic All-Americans. These young student-athletes, like their high school senior counterparts, were required to display more than football skill. Players were required to have a 3.0 grade point average and a character recommendation in order to be invited.
Junior Rank, the Marines and the student-athletes in Phoenix brought Chase Field to life Jan. 2. Starting the day off was the USMC Proving Ground Combine.
The USMC Proving Ground Combine was a football skills competition modeled after the NFL’s annual college combine. In the combine were 300 high school juniors, participating for a competitive assessment and ranking as well as a chance to play in next year’s Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.
After a week of practice, two Junior Academic All-American Games were held following the combine, giving the young student-athletes a chance to play at the stadium.
The main event was the nationally-televised Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. The estimated 4,000 fans in attendance saw a hard fought defensive battle. Ultimately, the West came away with the victory, edging out the East 17-14.
Overall, the bowl week was very successful, exceeding the high expectations of organizers.
“We’ve exceeded our own expectations, based on feedback from parents, coaches and the people who joined us in Phoenix this week,” said Berry. “My only hope is that the product we put on the field is representative of the men and women we have serving our country.”