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CARSON, Calif. -- More than 100 student athletes from across the United States can now call themselves Semper Fidelis All-Americans, and a few now claim the title of champions. The East defeated West in a 17 to 14 showdown of discipline, talent and teamwork at the second-annual Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Carson, Calif., Jan. 4.
The Marine Corps’ annual football bowl game brought together some of the most talented high school student-athletes from across the United States who had demonstrated success on and off the field.
“It feels good that the nation’s top 100 players are here. I like how it’s not just about football but the classroom and character too. It’s just an honor that I was chosen,” said Corey Cooper, a wide receiver for the East Team and a student of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, N.C.
After a painstaking selection process and high intensity training, the players can look back with their heads held high with pride in the New Year.
The bowl is the culmination of a series of youth football camps and a nationwide All-American player selection tour that celebrates academic excellence, proven physical fitness and quality of character. The players -- among the most talented in the nation -- have achieved academic excellence and are leaders in their communities.
Players began to arrive in Anaheim, Calif. Dec. 29, and spent the next four days practicing with top college and high school coaches from their respective coasts. Marines added a unique twist to practice by integrating Marine Corps drill instructors and officers as mentors.
Throughout bowl week, Marines and coaches engaged with players to develop skills and values important to both football and a successful life.
“As Marines, we are here to reinforce our core values of honor, courage and commitment,” said Staff Sgt. Chris MacVarish, a drill instructor with Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. “We demonstrated our values’ relevance to success both on and off the field."
In keeping with the Marine Corps’ commitment to “return quality citizens,” players volunteered their time with local youth in Carson and Long Beach, Calif. Marine drill instructors and players guided children aged seven to 13 through football and Marine inspired games and events like pass drills, tug-of-war and marching.
Each event was designed to better teach the players about the Marine Corps’ core values and show that, while Marines are deployed around the world, home is where their commitment begins.
Heath Evans, honorary Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl coach and retired NFL Super Bowl winner, stressed to players the importance of a commitment beyond the field saying, "The true leaders are the ones who give back." He continued to mentor the players throughout the week.
“Your legacy will be determined by your success not only as a football player,” he said, “But by your character as a role model in the community.”
A commitment to leadership and community does not go without recognition. Major Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, former commanding general for Marine Corps Recruiting Command, presented two All-Americans with Excellence in Leadership awards during the Semper Fidelis Bowl banquet Jan. 3.
Coaches nominated players from each team who demonstrated leadership in their daily lives and embodied the Corps' values of honor, courage and commitment. This year, Marine officials selected San Diego native Darren Carrington and Miami resident Ahmad Thomas.
"These two young men really stood out," said Osterman. "I'm proud to see this caliber of athlete out here."
Their journey to the bowl has been one of strenuous practices, community building and team bonding.
“Selflessness is the key ingredient and that’s the one thing these kids have got thrown in their faces this week,” said Evans. “Selflessness and the lack of the ‘I focus’.”
The bowl provided an opportunity for Marines to connect on a personal level with the players and their influencers. In doing so, they reinforced how the Marines’ core values of honor, courage and commitment relate to success on and off the field.
“You’re successful anytime you get in front of young men and teach them the Marine Corps’ core values,” said Evans. “The key ingredient on any team is a sound discipline structure. All those little details of discipline, if those kids take that out of this week, they’re much better young men.”