High scho0l football players from across the country begin arriving in Phoenix this week to begin preparations for a new bowl game that will be televised to homes across the country.
And Arizona will enjoy the lion’s share of attention.
First is the venue. The inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl will be held Jan. 3 at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s another chance to showcase one of the finest baseball stadiums in the big leagues, sporting the widest video board in Major League Baseball.
And that also means lots of visitors from across the country checking out the downtown restaurants and night life.
Next, there are the players and coaches.
Seven Arizona high school players were invited to play in the Semper Fidelis, which has tried to set itself apart from other similar ‘all-star’ events by making its selection of participants based not on just athletic ability, but also on academic performance and character development.
Highlighting that group is The Arizona Republic Big School Player of the Year, D.J. Foster. The CBS Sports Network will give the rest of the country an opportunity to see this young man, up close and personal, since CBS will make the game available to 95 million homes across the country.
Foster led Saguaro High School in Scottsdale to two consecutive state titles, while setting a new state record for touchdowns as a senior. He accumulated 60 TDs, 54 on the ground as a tailback, another 13 in receptions, and one on defense. He scored 10 in a single game, earning him a mention in Sports Illustrated magazine.
Foster finished this season with 3,058 yards rushing and 250 receiving.
The West Squad will also feature a couple of other prolific wide receivers from local high schools, Josh Weeks from Show Low High School and Javon Williams from Chandler High.
Weeks helped Show Low to an 11-4 record this season by leading the team in receiving yardage and receptions. He had 38 receptions for 540 yards and five touchdowns. Williams also led the Wolves receivers, averaging an impressive 28 yards per catch and finishing with 923 total yards and seven touchdowns.
Rounding out the Arizona contingent are Zach Hemmila, an offensive guard from Chandler High; Zachary Hoffpauir, a safety from Centennial High School in Peoria; Jaxon Hood, a defensive lineman from Chandler’s Hamilton High; and Avery Moss, a defensive end from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.
And, finally, the sidelines will be littered with Arizona coaches, with Steve Belles from Hamilton leading the way as the head coach of the West Team.
Belles, a 5A Coach of the Year, has led the Huskies to four state championships since arriving at Hamilton in 2006 and put together a national-record 53 consecutive wins before losing this season in the state championship game.
And Belles, who was once the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Rattlers in Arena Football, has sprinkled other local coaches throughout his staff. Two other Hamilton coaches will be helping out on this one, as Mike Johnston has assumed the duties of backs and special teams coach and Lane Reynolds will be working with the linebackers.
Also, Shaun Aguano from Chandler High will be working with the backs and John Sanders at Saguaro High will serve as the defensive coordinator.
The Semper Fidelis is the latest attempt at establishing a high school all-star game to rival the major bowls already out there, particularly the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio and the Under Armour All-American Game in Florida.
There were 100 players invited to the Semper Fidelis, following a search and talent evaluation done on a rolling basis until each roster spot was filled. By comparison, the Under Armour game has 92 players and the U.S. Army bowl has 90.
Competition will be even fiercer now to line up the best talent for each bowl. Several other top recruits from Arizona, for example, will be playing on Jan. 5 at the Under Armour game.
That event will feature Chaparral High wide receiver Davonte’ Neal, a two-time Arizona Gatorade Football Player of the Year, and that team’s highly-recruited quarterback, Connor Brewer. Also committed to that game is Andrus Peat, one of the top-rated offensive tackles from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.
The Semper Fidelis organizers have also arranged events for the previous day, including a proving-ground combine for underclassmen, during which 300 of the country’s top junior prospects will be tested at skill and speed work, and a pair of games for future top recruits who are still in junior high school.
So, add the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl to the plate of January bowl games in the Valley, right next to the Fiesta Bowl and Insight Bowl.
But this one will give college football fans a chance to see the players who will likely be playing in the Fiesta and Insight of the not-too-distant future.