June 7, 2013

More top prospects gear up for Under Armour game

MORE: Complete Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge coverage

CHICAGO -- After more than a decade of the vowing to "Protect this House," Under Armour's social media message has morphed into #IWILL.

With the Under Armour All-American Game and the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour becoming the premier events in the recruiting marketplace, it was time for the brand's senior director of sports marketing Walker Jones to celebrate an #IWILL moment that started nearly five years ago.

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"When we first began talking about the Under Armour All-American Game, there was not a time frame to becoming the ultimate destination for the premier high school football players, but it was always a goal," he said. "There honestly wasn't a five-year plan, just the ambition and drive to get into and do it right.

"To us, 'doing it right,' meant having a first-class event that the kids wanted to be a part of. It also meant having a staff in place that was strong enough to look critically at each event that passed and critique it, add to it, take corrective measures where they needed to be made in an effort to make each year better than the last."

Based on prospect rankings, the Under Armour All-American Game has been able to attract better talent each year.

According to Jones, the partnership with Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports was the missing piece in the company's effort to ensure that elite athletes would participate.

"Being able to be associated with Rivals.com has taken everything to the next level," Jones said. "Rivals.com is the most respected name in the recruiting industry and having that behind us as a selection committee -- as well as our association with the Rivals Camp Series and the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge has been most beneficial."

The Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge is taking place this weekend at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Of the 72 players already committed to the Under Armour All-American Game, 25 will be participating in the second annual Rivals.com event.

Among them is the consensus No. 1 player in the country, Da'Shawn Hand of Woodbridge (Va.) High.

Hand was offered the opportunity to play in both the Under Armour All-American Game and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

He said the choice was simple.

"I didn't have to give it too much thought," he said. "It was easy, really. They are both good games, but the location, the atmosphere and the gear for Under Armour were all better."

Ponte Vedra (Fla.) outside linebacker Dillon Bates sided with Hand.

The No. 59 player in the Rivals100 said that the fringe benefits were a tipping point to him.

"Being able to be at Disney is good for my family and friends to come see me play," he said. "From talking to other guys (who) played in the games, it sounded like the Under Armour one was more fun, too."

Word-of-mouth advertising is key to the success of any grassroots campaign, and according to Jones, having elite athletes pushing the Under Armour All-American Game has been largely responsible for the company's growth.

"Kids that play in our game go home and talk about it and the word has spread," Jones said. "That really is one of the biggest positives we have going for us.

"Our coaching staff -- with Herm Edwards, Steve Mariucci, LaVar Arrington, and Deion Sanders -- is a big draw; having Disney and Orlando as a destination that time of year is a big draw, and the look of our uniforms, cleats and gloves add to the sizzle for everyone. Players leave here feeling like a big deal and with a great experience."

It is that feeling Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell is hoping the players leave with from the Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge, the culmination of the Rivals Camp Series.

"These are big-time guys and they are going to have the ultimate camp experience in Chicago," he said. "It gives us so many more points of evaluation as well as a way to build relationships that help both Rivals.com and Under Armour."

Farrell said that the experience has been mutually beneficial.

"Once we switched our partnership from the Army Bowl to the Under Armour Game, kids were calling us to switch games," he said. "It was really overwhelming to have happen and it was immediately after the announcement was made.

"Moving forward, I expect the Rivals Camp Series and the Under Armour Game will be the destinations of choice for every top-level kid in the country."

According to Jones, if each event is able to cement its status as the first choice for those who have the first choice it will be another "#IWILL" moment for both organizations.

"Year One of the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge was great and Year Two is even better," he said. "Being at Soldier Field and not some random location is a 'wow' factor that kids look for. I don't think there is anything holding the Under Armour All-American Game nor the Rivals Camp Series back with so many people working in the same direction to make them great."

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