The stars did shine bright deep in the heart of Texas on January 7, as some of the top high school football players in the country and some of the top Army heroes teamed up for the 12th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl in the Alamodome in San Antonio.
"They are the best of the best," said Brigadier General. Jefforey Smith, the task force commander for the event. "The best soldiers and the best players in America -- they are both well-trained."
The bowl game showcased more than 90 high school football players and highly-decorated soldiers. Five of those soldiers came from the Army Special Operations Command: First Sergeant Michael Elmore of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne); Sergeant First Class Steve Kimsey of the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne); Sergeant First Class Robert Castaneda of the 3rd SFG (A); Staff Sergeant David Hutchings of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) and Staff Sergeant Dylan Maynard of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
USASOC was in the forefront of the bowl game. Elmore lead the soldiers onto the field for the pre-game show and Kimsey took part in the pregame coin-flip with Barry Sanders, Jr, West Squad running back.
Each soldier was paired up with a player to not only escort onto the field before the game but to talk to them about the Army and their past experience.
"We talked a lot about what we do and the similarities to what they do," Elmore said. "They do a lot of training that stresses fundamentals and teamwork. They are taught the basics and to fall back on the basics when they need to. They also focus on building character traits. The hard work and ethics are similar."
"I hope that they take something away from this," Kimsey said. "What they do is similar to what we do. They train to work as a team and to be proficient at what they do. They also strive to be strong leaders in their positions."
In some ways the players learned something that they might not have known about the Army.
"They don't see a lot of aviation soldiers," Hutchings said. "It gives them a different perspective (on the Army). I was able to give them that aspect of what I do."
"It gives me a chance to show some high school athletes how professional we are," Castaneda said.
And it was a two-way street as the soldiers were able to learn about the young men.
Castaneda, who is a San Antonio native, was paired with Javonte Magee, who is attending Sam Houston High School in San Antonio. Magee, originally from Louisiana but was displaced due to Hurricane Katrina, didn't play organized football until his freshman year of high school.
"I have a lot of respect for what he has done in his life," Castaneda said. "He has kept driving forward and followed his dream no matter what to be one of the top high school prospects in the nation. He will go far."
Kimsey was paired up with Sanders Jr., whose father was a star running back for the Detroit Lions. Sanders had additional pressure on him during the bowl week as he had a documentary crew following him around recording his every word and movement. Kimsey, who at times shared the camera with Sanders, said he was impressed with the way the young man handled the attention.
"It is a little overwhelming," Kimsey said. "I feel very fortunate to have been selected to pair up with Barry Sanders Jr. He is a very intelligent person who knows what he wants to do. He is a humble guy. I have a lot of respect for him."
Maynard was paired up with two players, Joel Caleb and Kyle Murphy. He was impressed with the maturity that they showed.
"Both young kids are motivated and want to go to college," he said. "They asked a lot of questions about what I do and what I have done in my career. It was cool that they were interested and cared about what I did. "
Elmore said that his football player, Darius Hamilton, is prepared for his future even if it doesn't include football. Hamilton was awarded the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Defensive Player of the Year award during a dinner banquet earlier in the week.
"He is focused," Elmore said. "He knows what he wants to do both on the field and after football. He has set himself up for success."
For both players and soldiers the game itself closed a week where they were able to do a little bonding and take the best that both had to offer.
Castaneda summed up the whole week for both players and Soldiers.
"Their calling is athletics and they work hard at what they do to be the best in their sport," he said. "Our calling is the military and we work hard to be the best and to protect the nation."
Mark Tate writes for USASOC Public Affairs