Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
Posted: 12:08 p.m.
By Taylor Bell
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Eight Chicago area products have been chosen to participate in the first Semper Fidelis All-America Bowl, the U.S. Marine Corps' contribution to high school football entertainment and the latest All-Star event to showcase the leading prospects in the nation.
The inaugural game, co-sponsored by Junior Rank Sports, will be played on Jan. 3, 2012 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, home of major league baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. It will be telecast on CBS Sports Network.
The eight local representatives are offensive lineman Jordan Diamond of Simeon, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp of Montini, defensive end Faith Ekakitie of Lake Forest Academy, running backs Malin Jones of Joliet Catholic and Mike Panico of Carmel, linebacker Antonio Morrison of Bolingbrook and defensive backs Maurice Fleming of Curie and Anthony Standifer of Crete-Monee.
Westerkamp is committed to Nebraska, Jones to Northwestern, Morrison to Florida, Fleming to Iowa and Standifer to Michigan. Fleming likely won't be able to play, however. He is missing the entire 2011 season with an ACL injury.
According to nationally known recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who is chairman of the selection committee, Illinois-bound defensive lineman Vontrell Williams of Mount Carmel, Oklahoma State-bound quarterback Wes Lunt of Rochester and Iowa-bound defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson of Montini also are being considered.
Two of the state's leading prospects, Penn State-bound defensive tackle Tommy Schutt of Glenbard West and Iowa-bound offensive lineman Ryan Ward of Providence, previously accepted invitations to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Tx.
Lemming had served as chairman of the selection committee for the U.S.
Army All-Star event for eight years but decided to join the Marines and his friend, Shoan Berry, founder of Junior Rank, when Rivals became a co-partner in the Army game.
"I'm more comfortable as chairman of the committee. Here, I'm my own boss," Lemming said. "We have to build this game from scratch. I like the fact that I can help build it from scratch, like the Army game. The Army game is on its own now and I'd like to do this one on my own."
Lemming began selecting players for the two 50-man rosters last April, four months after the other All-Star games (Army, Under Armour) had started. He has chosen 70 and will fill the other 30 spots after the 2011 season.
"I'll wait until November to see which seniors step up," Lemming said. "Some seniors take the year off if they have a lot of scholarship offers. I want to reward kids who have great senior years."
Lemming said he has extended an invitation to the nation's No. 1 player, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield, Mo. But he hasn't made a decision yet.
Other highly rated players who have committed to the Semper Fidelis game include five standouts from California--strong safety Shaq Thompson of Sacramento, running back Byron Marshall of San Jose, Notre Dame-bound wide receiver Deontay Greenberry of Fresno, Notre Dame-bound cornerback Tee Shepard of Fresno and 6-foot-8, 315-pound offensive tackle Freddie Tagaloa of Richmond.
Lemming rates Thompson as one of the two best players on the West Coast, Marshall as the top ball-carrier on the West Coast, Greenberry as the leading wide receiver on the West Coast, Shepard as the best cornerback on the West Coast and Tagaloa as one of the best offensive tackles in the nation.
Among others who have agreed to play in the game are Washington-bound quarterback Jeff Lindquist of Mercer Island, Wash., Wisconsin-bound quarterback Bart Houston of San Ramone, Calif., running back Rushel Shell of Aliquippa, Pa., Miami-bound quarterback David Thompson of Palmetto Bay, Fla., Penn State-bound tight end Jesse James of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Notre Dame-bound defensive tackle Sheldon Day of Indianapolis, Ind.
Lindquist is the best quarterback in the Northwest, Shell is a top-15 prospect whom Lemming describes as one of the three best running backs in the nation, Day was tapped by Notre Dame ahead of Schutt and is rated the No. 2 player in Indiana while Thompson is the best high school baseball player in the nation and may be the next Joe Maurer in the June draft.
Lemming hopes to make the Semper Fidelis game more competitive than the others. He will conduct a draft in late November and choose teams according to talent rather than location. He reminds that the Army game hasn't been competitive since it began in 2002.
"We will be the No. 1 high school All-America game in the next two years," Berry predicted. "We didn't want to select kids because they were fast or tall but because they were good people and good students. We are looking for the best athletes who also are the best people. We don't think other All-Star games recognize character or academic performance or community involvement."
Junior Rank is a Chicago-based sports media company that conducts a number of footall combines for junior athletes (11-16) around the country. It is dedicated to evaluating, recognizing and rewarding great student athletes while giving parents the tools, resources and opportunities to help fulfill their children's dreams of playing college sports.
Berry's organization also sponsors a junior academic All-America game for seventh and eighth graders. And he plans to launch All-Star events in baseball, basketball, lacrosse, gymnastics and wrestling at some point.
"We want to highlight athletes for the right reasons in the right way,"
Berry said. "Our camps are about instruction and development and character-building."
He hopes Junior Rank will serve as a pipeline for future Semper Fidelis football games. For example, 13-year-old Erik Swenson of Naperville, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound left offensive tackle, is a straight-A student in eighth grade who already is catching the attention of Big 10 coaches.
Ty Isaac, Joliet Catholic's outstanding running back and one of the top-rated juniors in the state, is a product of the Junior Rank program.
Berry's 13-year-old son, Justin, a quarterback who lives in St. Charles and will attend Wheaton Academy, has attracted interest from Harvard and UCLA.
Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, a junior offensive tackle, is rated among the leading prospects in the class of 2013 in Illinois. Also Chad Beebe, a freshman wide receiver at Aurora Christian and son of Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe.