SAN ANTONIO — The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is a showcase of some of the most-talented high school football players in the nation, and over the years many of the participants have gone on to have stellar college and professional careers.
The 90 players go through a week of camps, drills and practices with some of the best coaches in the nation in preparation for Saturday's game, which will be televised nationally on NBC. The contest pitting the East vs. the West kicks off at noon CT.
While it is a tremendous honor to be selected as a participant, it can be overwhelming. Some athletes may even admit to being a tad bit nervous, and American Fork High School offensive lineman Ryker Mathews (6-foot-6, 290 pounds) was more than a bit nervous.
"I've never gone against talent like this, and yeah, I was just really nervous before I got here," said Mathews, who was recruited heavily by BYU and Utah before choosing BYU. "You wonder if you really belong playing against all these great players, if they made a mistake naming you as a participant, you don't really know."
The players' schedule in preparation for the game has been tight and intense.
"We're always doing something. It's non-stop," said Mathews, who is a teammate with Bingham High running back Harvey Langi on the West squad. "We're working out a ton, but it's great because I'm learning a lot and really improving on my skills as a player."
While playing for American Fork, a team that runs a run-heavy offensive system, Mathews wasn't able to focus much on developing his pass-blocking skills.
"That's probably been the best thing or at least one of the best things this week," he said. "I've been able to really work on that part of my game which is important for any lineman at BYU, obviously with how much they like to throw it there. I've learned how to slide my feet better and just a lot of specifics that I think will really help me when I start competing for a spot this coming spring."
As a participant in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he follows in the footsteps of current Cougars Jake Heaps and Ross Apo, who both participated in the national bowl last year.
"It's such a huge honor for me to be here," Mathews said. "To have this chance is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I'm just trying to prove that I belong and trying to represent the state of Utah and BYU as best I can."
While he was nervous going in, those feelings soon vanished with the beginning of workouts, which are watched closely by the national media.
"I found that once I got going that I was fine,” he said. “I just started playing like I always do. Right now I'm very confident and I know that I belong here going against the best. It's been a great experience for me that way."
Bingham High football coach Dave Peck, who is an assistant coach for the West team, agrees.
"Ryker is definitely doing very well down here, he's one of our top players on the West squad," Peck said. "I'd say he's easily one of the top two or three offensive linemen we have down here."30 comments on this story
The boost of confidence Mathews has received will serve him very well when he enrolls at BYU next week. He'll participate in spring drills under Brandon Doman, the Cougars' new offensive coordinator.
Doman’s promotion came as no surprise to Mathews by any means.
"I'm very close to Coach Doman,” Mathews said. “He was the coach that recruited me probably the most, so I was obviously very pleased to hear that he'd been named. I always sort of knew or was very confident that he'd be the new offensive coordinator. He's a great coach and I can't wait to play for him and to be part of that offense."