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January 4, 2012
SAN ANTONIO - Let's see, there's rain. And coffee. Microsoft, music. And more rain.
But if you ask a few of the players here at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, you should put high school football players on the list of things the Pacific Northwest is known for.
"We've got a lot of really talented players that people don't know about," defensive end Alex Balducci of Portland (Ore.) Central Catholic. "I think we're the most overlooked part of the country."
Lately people have been looking - and they've been liking.
The area had a record five teams in the final RivalsHigh 100 this fall, including two in the Top 25 and one in the Top 10. And the Pacific Northwest has four players in the current Rivals100, including three in the Top 50.
Zach Banner, a massive offensive lineman from Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes with dozens of offers, is the No. 40 overall recruit. Banner feels he should have more company on the list.
He says the lack of recognition is brought up frequently among the players in the area.
"We talk about it a lot," he said. "We really do. And we don't understand. We don't play different football than they do in California. There's 22 guys on the field, just like down there."
This week at the All-American Bowl, there where will be four players on the field from the Pacific Northwest as Banner and Balducci will be joined by Banner's teammate, Cedric Dozier, and Kei'Varae Russell of Everett (Wash.) Mariner.
Balducci, an Oregon commitment, already is impressing.
Balducci thinks all the guys from his area will do well, specifically because of where they are from.
"You see a lot of guys from the Pacific Northwest doing well," he said. "That's because we have a chip on our shoulder."
Banner feels exposure is the way to change all that. And that performing well here - in front of all the national analysts - is key.
"The main thing that impacts us is what you guys say," he said. "It didn't impact me - I have 54 offers - but some guys feel it does. Maybe if we can get more exposure, more people will see what we can do and that we can play football in the Pacific Northwest.
Guys like Balducci.
Balducci is the No. 101-rated recruit. A good week here could make him the fifth player from the Pacific Northwest in the prestigious Rivals100.
Joshua Garnett of Puyallup (Wash.) High is going for the ultimate recognition. Garnett, who is playing in the Under Armour Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., is the highest-rated four-star player at No. 28 overall and is trying for a coveted five-star.
Recognition is coming.
Last year, the area produced a five-star talent, Colt Lyerla of Hillsboro (Ore.) High. And it has two players on Rivals first 10 five-stars for the Class of 2013: QB Max Browne of Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline and RB Thomas Tyner of Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha.
And a team from Oregon advanced to the semifinals of a national event for 8th graders being held in San Antonio this week.
The coach asked Balducci to speak to the kids, who were preparing for their game against a team from Florida.
So there is hope for the future - even modest.
Banner knows the Pacific Northwest will never be huge - "mainly because our population isn't as great as other areas, like California" - but he knows the area can play.
Balducci can't wait to prove it this week.
"This is a chance to show what we can do," he said, "to show we're sort of the diamonds in the rough."