SAN ANTONIO - He was part of a unit that yielded 12 sacks. He was part of a team that couldn't hold a 10-0 lead. But if you ask Matthew Hegarty of Aztec (N.M.) High, he'll tell you he was a part of something special.
Hegarty and his West teammates fell, 13-10, in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday. But Hegarty was thrilled for the chance to go up against big-time competition and represent the state of New Mexico in a game filled with stud players from California, Texas and Florida.
"It was great to be out with the best guys in the country," he said. "To go up against the five or six best defensive linemen in the country is a great experience. I've seen a lot of them at camps, but to do it here was special."
The Notre Dame-bound Hegarty and his linemates had their hands full with some of the best defensive linemen in the country, including lineman of the year Ray Drew of Thomasville (Ga.) Thomas County, Timmy Jernigan of Lake City (Fla.) Columbia and Ishaq Williams of Brookyln (N.Y.) Abraham Lincoln.
West quarterback Cody Kessler of Bakersfield (Calif.) Centennial went down nine times, but he doesn't blame the guys up front.
"Their D-line is just flat-out big and fast," Kessler said. "Their speed was hard to stop.
"In high school, we are all big men on our campuses. But here, everyone is great. So playing here prepares us for the next level."
Such thoughts likely hold true for Hegarty more than any other player in the game.
He knows New Mexico football doesn't stack up to the power states. He also know he'll take plenty of ribbing about where he plays at events such as these.
"I'm used to all the jokes. 'I didn't even know they played football in New Mexico,' stuff like that," he said. "It's OK. I can deal with it."
Dealing with their size and strength was another matter.
"I haven't seen this level of play for a while," he said. "It's been a year since I've been to camps. It was definitely a step up. I'm looking forward to facing it in college."
By then, he'll be back to having a group of guys he used to being around.
Hegarty joked that he felt like the odd-man out when guys from other states were debating which group was best.
"A lot of guys were talking about their states and hanging out with the groups of players they have, especially the Texas guys," he said. "I wasn't doing that. I couldn't. I was an army of one."