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Prep football standouts get another big choice

Times Staff Writer

The nation’s top high school football players now have one more opportunity -- and decision to fret over. A new nationally televised showcase all-star game has begun a two-network competition for their attention.

ESPN announced Monday that more than 40 high school seniors have accepted invitations for the first ESPNU High School All-American Game on Jan. 5 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla. The game will be broadcast by ABC on the same day at almost the same time that the U.S. Army All-American Bowl will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio on NBC.

So, just as those players are asked to make early commitments on college choices, now all-star game recruiters are asking them for early commitments to their events.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which will be televised live starting at 11 a.m., is owned by SportsLink, a Wharton, N.J.-based marketing firm. Organizers of the Army game say they have 68 commitments out of 80 possible spots, including running back Darrell Scott from Ventura St. Bonaventure and quarterback Dayne Crist from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.

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“They’ve given us their word,” said Garrett Shea, president of Air7 Quarterback University and a consultant for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl has been played for seven years and features Reggie Bush and Vince Young among its alumni, giving it a head start in attracting talent. The attendance at last year’s game was 35,151.

But the new ESPNU game, which will be shown by tape delay at noon on the West Coast, has forced Army organizers to extend invitations three months earlier. That could mean players who excel in their senior years might be left out of both games because of the race to get early commitments.

“It’s just another obstacle or issue in his life that he has to deal with,” said Tim Crist, the father of Dayne Crist.

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Since both games will have 80 players each participating, it raises the question whether there’s enough talent to support two all-star games on the same day nationally.

“I think there is,” Shea said. “There’s so many great high school players out there.”

The reason both games will be played on Jan. 5 is because state playoffs, college bowl games and the NFL playoffs limit the dates available for getting high school players together for a national broadcast, according to Burke Magnus, vice president and general manager for ESPNU.

Both games will also hold combines, in which players are tested and recruiting Internet services offer their expertise.

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It’s all part of a growing national market in which millions of dollars have been spent by corporations to acquire Internet sports recruiting services.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com


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