BRADENTON, Fla. — IMG Academy football players Shavar Manuel, Saivion Smith, Ricky Aguayo and Rahshaun Smith all stood together on the podium, smiling and taking pictures with their honorary Under Armour All-America Game jerseys on in the team’s football meeting room Wednesday afternoon.
The four players — and a fifth honoree, offensive lineman Tyler Gerard, who was not present at the ceremony — were strangers to each other at one time but laughed and cracked jokes with each other and their teammates like old friends. The bond they have shared in their senior years will culminate with the Under Armour All-America Game on January 2, 2016 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
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Their reasons for coming to IMG are similar — they wanted to get a leg up on other college football recruits. The daily schedule and regimen football players at IMG go through is similar to that a college football player according to Rahshaun Smith, a 5-star rated linebacker who came to IMG by way of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore.
“The preparation here is second to none,” Rahshaun Smith said. “I feel like I’m getting ahead. I’m waking up, lifting at 6 a.m. and starting school at 7. You are responsible for yourself, responsible for waking up and making morning lift on time.”
Rahshaun Smith says the football and the competition out on the football field is the best he’s been around.
“You’re playing with the best of the best and we have a schedule that allows us to compete against the top players,” Smith said. “You have to be prepared and you have to be ready to compete everyday in practice and every week against the opposition. These guys are the best the country. They are going to be stars in college and probably play on Sundays.”
The only thing that separates Saivion Smith, a defensive back committed to LSU, from his St. Petersburg, Fla. home is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge but he still feels like he’s a long way away from the friends he played football with from the youth leagues all way up to Lakewood High School.
However, Saivion Smith said the players spend so much time and share similar goals so it’s easy to build chemistry.
“It was difficult at first because I knew, maybe 2 or 3 people,” Saivion Smith said. “But I mean we spend so much time together off the field, in the dorm and at school, so we gelled kind of quick. We all have the mission to head onto college and hopefully get to the NFL. And now I look forward to playing with these guys every week and I’m looking forward to playing together one last time in the Under Armour game.”
And the brotherhood continues to grow as the season progresses. In the football meeting room as several teammates were congratulating the four on making the Under Armour All-America Game, they took time to congratulate senior wide receiver Devin Drake on a new offer from UCLA he received earlier Wednesday morning.
Manuel, a defensive lineman from Tampa, Fla., even took the time to brag about his absent teammate Gerard, an offensive linemen committed to Ohio State.
“He’s a dog, a big-time competitor,” Manuel said. “I think he’s helped me get better and I’ve helped him get better.”
IMG head football coach Kevin Wright will also participate in the game as an assistant coach. He’ll also have players like quarterback Shea Patterson and running back Tony Jones Jr. participating in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
“I’m very proud of these young men and the commitment they’ve made to doing the right things on and off the field,” Wright said. “I’m looking forward to being part of their final game as high school football players.”