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January 4, 2012

All-Americans struggle to find balance in spotlight

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SAN ANTONIO - Players are groomed to be team-first and self-second from the moment they step onto a football field.

Especially when they're talking to the media.

After each game, most easily rattle off cliché answers that indicate their success is just a byproduct of their teammates effort.

But when they are the only ones the media wants to talk to - often the case for players good enough to be selected to the U.S. Army All-American Game - the words can ring hollow.

"It was a little awkward," Kent Taylor said. "I could tell that some kids on the team were a little jealous of the attention. I was being recruited and they weren't. I was being interview and they weren't."

Taylor feels the team may have suffered because of it.

"We had a tough season this year," he said. "We didn't really come together as a team."

Taylor, a University of Florida commit and a member of the prestigious Rivals100, attended Land O' Lakes (Fla.) High.

His team went 7-3, finishing third in its district, and did not qualify for the playoffs.

He's not the only one with the same story.

Zeke Pike of Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights had a hard time managing the attention while staying inside of the team concept.

Pike has been a hot name in a non-power state for several years. His recruitment and off-the-field struggles were well documented. His commitment to Auburn was major local and national news.

"My dad (Mark) played in the NFL for a long time," he said. "And I was one of the highest-profile quarterbacks in the state since Brian Brohm so I felt like I was in the spotlight a lot.

"Sometimes I didn't handle it the best; sometimes people were just jealous. It is hard being in that place, but I kind of got used to it."

The Dixie Heights team went 3-8 on the season and Pike missed two games due to suspensions. None of that stopped the attention nor the scrutiny.

"The people around me were supportive," he said. "I had a lot of good friends and my family help me through the tough times, but that is what those people are there for. The people who are not there to support you then you don't want them anyways; you don't really care what they think."

Jonathan Bullard helped lead Shelby (N.C.) Crest to a state final appearance and had a Division I-bound teammate, Rhaheim Ledbetter, to take some of the pressure off of him.

But the five-star defensive end said that he could still feel some animosity among some players.

"People are naturally going to be jealous," he said. "Everyone wants to be successful and when you are and they aren't it is hard."

That is the hard part to balance: friendship and the future.

Often times it is not the star player being on the receiving end. He is trying to be a good teammate while feeling the sting of others.

"I had to work hard to get here," Bullard said. "It isn't on me at this point."

Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Glenbard West defensive end Tommy Schutt said that he was fortunate to have a great group of players around him.

"We had a couple of other DI guys on the team so that helped me," he said. "We also had a really tight group of seniors that did not let any of the personal stuff get in the way."

Schutt may have been the exception to the rule.

He also may have made some of the other All-Americans jealous as well.

"I wish we had as much success on the field as I had personally," Taylor said. "It would have been a more fun year if everyone was happy."

RELATED: Not every All-American can shine in the television spotlight



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