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December 10, 2012
NEW YORK, N.Y. -- The U.S. Army All American Bowl Player of the Year Tour has had some exciting faces in New York City over the year -- as well as some enigmatic figures. From the flash of guys including Stefon Diggs and Dee Hart to quiet prospects such as Dorian Green-Beckham and Darius Hamilton, it has been a good mix in the Big Apple. This year is no different as running back Derrick Green, athlete Derrick Henry and safety Su'a Cravens enjoy the sights of the city on the first half of the tour.
Green, the nation's No. 1 running back out of Richmond (Va.) Hermitage, is the veteran of New York, having grown up in Brooklyn. He's the most intriguing prospect on this leg of the tour (there is another in Washington, D.C.) because of his uncommitted status. For the 6-foot, 223-pounder, returning to New York feels like going home.
"It's always good to get back," he said. "I lived in Brooklyn until I was around 8 years old, and I still call New York home in a lot of ways. I have relatives here and in New Jersey and I get back, but to be here on this tour as a player of the year candidate for the U.S. Army is a great honor."
For Henry and Cravens, it's their first visit to Manhattan.
"I've never seen anything quite like this," said Henry, the nation's No. 4 athlete, who is committed to Alabama out of Yulee, Fla. "I've never been in a city like this. There are so many people. Everything moves kind of fast, but it's really interesting and an honor to be nominated."
"It's really cool here. This is nothing like Los Angeles. There are so many people here, and everything is so busy and packed in," said Cravens, the No. 1 safety in the country from Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta who is committed to USC. "I know one thing, it's cold. This was my first plane ride and my first time across the country and in cold weather, and it's really cold here. I could never play in this weather. It makes you appreciate the 75-degree days in California, but this is a great experience. I've always been interested to see it in person."
The players arrived in Newark, N.J., late Sunday afternoon and headed into the city for dinner and a tour of NBC studios at 30 Rock, where they got to see everything from the "Saturday Night Live" set to how NBC's "Sunday Night Football" is run.
"The tour was great. I was surprised at how small the studios were there," Henry said. "SNL was really small, and Jimmy Fallon's studio was much smaller than you'd expect. Seeing the history there and then getting to check out 'Sunday Night Football' was a lot of fun."
"Meeting Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison was cool," Cravens said. "To meet a great NFL player who played my position was an experience. The whole thing at NBC was a good time. You get to see a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, and we got to sit in the studio where they sit and see how it's all done."
Harrison was especially entertaining with the players, joking with Cravens about how he better be good if he's going to start at USC early, guessing that Henry was either a defensive end or a tight end at first, based on his size, and telling Green he's glad he's retired so he doesn't have to tackle guys that big anymore.
"He was really personable with us," Green said. "He doesn't hold back, he tells you how it is and that was cool. He's a great player, so meeting him was an honor, and Coach Dungy is a great coach."
The players met NBC on-air personalities Peter King and Mike Florio. They saw the control center that runs all NBC programming across the country, the SNL and Fallon sets as well as the set of Dr. Oz. They heard many stories about everything from Chris Farley's skits being held on one particular stage to Fallon insisting he play his video games on the biggest TV in the building.
Following the evening at NBC, the players had a more serious task to undertake on Monday morning. After experiencing a rush-hour subway ride from downtown Manhattan to Queens, all three worked with volunteers at a local church in the borough, doing everything from moving packaged food from one area to another to be given to people devastated by Hurricane Sandy to unloading trucks with everything from bottled water to soup to protein bars.
"I've done community service before in Richmond, but doing it back here in New York for the victims of Sandy was important," Green said. "I have family here that were without power for a few weeks and are still recovering, so giving back is important to me."
For Henry and Cravens, the feeling was similar.
"I've volunteered to feed the homeless in Jacksonville and help out how I can down there, so doing it up here after such a devastating storm is fine by me," Henry said. "It's always good to give back; it makes you appreciate what you have."
"I did a little bit of community service two years ago, and this was more intense," Cravens said. "It felt like a workout. We were moving so many things and handling some heavy items. But it was good to work with the volunteers, the U.S. Army and everyone to help out, even if it was just for a day."
Perhaps more interesting than the NBC tour or the community service is watching the interaction of the three players, who got along from the moment they landed. Green and Henry had met at The Opening, but Cravens, who didn't do very many camps this spring and summer, was a stranger to both. But his affable personality immediately made him the most talkative of the three.
"I'm the West guy here, so I don't have any backup," Cravens joked. "But I'm going to have to be trying to tackle these guys in the game, so it's good to size them up. Seriously, though, we just click. Each person has their own personality, but it all blends together."
And their phones are perhaps as interesting as the players. Whether it's Green's phone blowing up with text messages from reporters he's never heard of, or Cravens watching highlight videos of Green and Henry as running backs to compare them to his own part-time job in an offensive backfield, or Henry being baffled as a mini helmet he signed someplace for an Alabama fan is being auctioned on eBay, much to his dismay, the phones have a life of their own.
"My phone never stops with the recruiting stuff," Green said. "Because I'm not committed, I get hit up by dozens of reporters every day looking for interviews, by coaches and by prospects I've become friendly with. It won't calm down until I make a decision, I know, but I'm taking my time with it all."
Cravens and Henry, who have been committed for awhile, don't get the coaches that much.
"Everyone knows I'm going to USC and I would never de-commit; that's not who I am," Cravens said. "So it has pretty much stopped."
"The same thing here," Henry agreed. "I'm 'Bama all the way, so I'm not talking to any other coaches."
Next up for the players is one of the highlights of the tour, the Heisman Dinner Monday evening, where former Heisman Trophy winners and current winner Johnny Manziel will be in attendance.
"That's going to be great," Green said. "We've talked about guys we want to see there, like Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker and Eddie George, and hopefully they will show. We'd also love to see guys like Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram and Cam Newton, but they had NFL games and all that, so it's doubtful they'll be there. But whoever shows up, it will be great to see legends in person."
Green still has a top six of Michigan, Tennessee, Auburn, Ole Miss, Miami and Oregon, but he has hinted that new schools could get into the mix and he isn't close to a decision. He said Michigan has a slight edge with the coaching changes at Auburn and Tennessee and he is hoping to take a trip to Miami next.
Cravens said this past weekend's visit to USC was a great one with many committed players on hand, as well as uncommitted guys such as Max Redfield and A'Shawn Robinson. He feels USC is back in the mix for Redfield, a former commitment, and is at least tied with Notre Dame, and he said Robinson had such a great time he didn't want to leave. He feels USC will keep all the commits together and at most it would lose one, but he didn't name names.
Henry is working on Florida offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil a bit for the Tide, and he feels Tunsil is torn between Alabama and Georgia. Tunsil's recent visit to Alabama pushed it very close to Georgia, which had been the leader.