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January 2, 2012

State's best out to prove they can compete

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With five players at the game - including four from one school - New Jersey stars are out to show they have the talent to go up against more traditional power states.

The Army All-American Bowl isn't just a chance for the best players to prove their skills match up against other top talents.

It's a chance for players to prove their state is great, too.

New Jersey, known for producing some of the best high basketball players in the country, has five representatives here eager to prove the state is great in football, too.

Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep receiver Leonte Carroo - despite three consecutive Top-10 finishes by his school nationally - feels his state is still looked down upon by those in traditional high school power states.

"Jersey doesn't get a lot of respect, but we have the four of us [from Bosco] and Devin Fuller [of Old Tappan], too," he said. "Five kids from Jersey is serious business."

Teammate Yuri Wright took it a step further, saying the region is unappreciated.

"It is great for Jersey, but it is all up the East Coast," he said. "There are great players in our region and it isn't just Texas and Florida anymore."

It just seems that way at all-star events such as this.

The three traditional high school states have the most players with California leading the way with 16 while Texas has 15 and Florida has nine.

Don Bosco seemingly is attempting to change that by itself as Darius Hamilton and Elijah Shumate join Carroo and Wright on the East squad. It is believed to be the most players any school has ever brought to the event.

"We all wanted to do this together and be together for one last time on the football field," Hamilton said. "It is a chance to see if all the hard work we put in all year has paid off."

And while Jersey players may not get as much love from college recruiters, they sure do from NFL scouts.

The state has produced a first-round pick nearly every draft since the turn of the century, including seven in 2009.

But the 2011 pick, Muhammad Wilkerson of Linden (N.J.) High, illustrates how the state's top players are often overlooked. Wilkerson was just a two-star prospect out of high school before jumping to three stars after a year of prep school. He played collegiately at Temple.

Hamilton hopes that's changing.

"People are eventually going to realize there is a lot of really good football in New Jersey and they are going to stop writing off teams and players just because they are from there," he said.

Recruiters have definitely noticed this year. Carroo committed to Rutgers early. The others are picking among the biggest programs in the country, from Notre Dame to Florida, Michigan and California, among many others.

This week, the players' goal is to make those from the bigger states take notice, too.

"We feel like we deserve to be here," Shumate said. "This is an individual reward for the work we each put in."



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