LONG BRANCH, N.J. - For Long Branch (N.J.) athlete Miles Shuler, playing in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl is something he has thought about since he began watching the game on television almost a decade ago. On Wednesday afternoon that dream was realized as Shuler officially received his game jersey in front of an auditorium full of his classmates, teammates and family.
"Every year since I was a little kid I've been watching all of these great players doing their thing and I never thought I would be here," said Shuler. "But I am here after putting in a lot of hard work."
Wednesday was the culmination of events, which started a few months ago with his official invitation.
"I was speechless," said Shuler. "Me and my father were happy and we just committed to the game right then and there. It's a great honor."
Now that he has received his game jersey, Shuler looked ahead to the experience of playing with the country's best in San Antonio.
"I definitely want to have fun, and I really want to get to play with a lot of the other great players from all over the nation," said Shuler, who currently owns a 3.8 GPA. "I want to see the level they're at and compare my level to them."
Joining Shuler on Wednesday were a number of family members, including his father, who was thrilled to see his son's dream become reality.
"I saw how Miles came from nowhere to become an Army All-American," said Mr. Shuler. "He wasn't on the map when he first started, but he went to every combine and did well and performed. He wasn't afraid to be great, so he deserved this. Watching him do his speech today, I just felt good for him because as a father you tell your son to be good, lead the right life, be a good student and be a good person. And to see everything come out for him made me feel good."
Also in attendance was Shuler's head coach at Long Branch, Dan George.
"It's been exciting because as a coach you really want to enjoy coaching, which I do everyday," said Coach George. "In order to enjoy coaching it's about the kids you have and he just makes it easy. He makes it easy to be around and he makes you want to come to practice. As a coach you know he's coming prepared, so you better come prepared too."
Now with his official game jersey in hand, Shuler will turn some of his attention to his recruitment, which will hit high gear next weekend with his first official visit.
"I'm taking an official visit to Northwestern next Friday," said Shuler. "Besides that I don't have any other dates set."
Aside from Northwestern, Shuler trimmed his list recently to also include Rutgers, Notre Dame, Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Florida and North Carolina. While he is not claiming any favorites, he did mention a few coaches who have stood out to him during the process.
"I made a great connection with Coach (Pat) Fitzgerald of Northwestern, Coach (P.J.) Fleck of Rutgers of course, Coach (Bob) Diaco from Notre Dame, and Coach (Adam) Brathwaite from Michigan," said Shuler.
Whatever school gains Shuler's services, will be receiving both a fantastic player and person according to Coach George.
"I think he will make a great transition to college," he said. "He just continues to work. Where he has deficiencies he trains that much harder in that area. He can help a team in so many different ways, defensively, offensively, and on special teams, where I think he can be a star. He's also not a selfish player and he's a great locker room guy. He's a pleasure to coach, so I think it'll be a great transition for him."
Coach George also pointed out something that will likely help his growth process even more at the next level.
"People also don't know that he just turned 17, so he's just a baby," said Coach George. "He's grown so much each year and he will continue to grow, because that's the type of person he is."
With his first official visit quickly approaching, and a few more likely to follow, what will Shuler be looking for on these visits?
"I want to see if I'm comfortable at the place and see the environment, and see if I feel at home," said Shuler. "I just want to feel comfortable. That's the main thing I'm looking for."
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is in its 11th year and will be played, Jan. 8, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, and televised by NBC.