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January 3, 2011

Smaller states on big-time stage

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SAN ANTONIO - Gardner (Kan.) Edgerton's Bubba Starling stands 6-foot-5 and is ranked as the No. 7 quarterback in the class of 2011.

He also is a two-sport star (as one of the top baseball players in the country) that has been called the nation's top prep athlete.

And he admits, he's a bit intimidated.

"I look around and see some of these guys and they're huge ... they're men," he said. "It's totally different than where I come from."

Welcome to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, where everybody in uniform is a high school hot-shot used to being the best.

It's an eye-opening experience, especially if you are not from one of the three big states of Florida, Texas and California - states that have 44 of this year's Top 100 players and enough swagger to fill the Alamodome, the site of Saturday's game.

Starling, a Nebraska commit who is one of the quarterbacks for the West squad, can compete with anyone. And even though Kansas high school football is on the rise, Starling acknowledges it's not the same level of competition.

"Guys keep asking me, 'What camps have you been to?' " he said. "The truth is, I haven't been to one. In the spring, I'm playing baseball."

The ability to play year-round - and their huge population basis - is something that gives the big three states an advantage.

Saginaw (Mich.) High wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett said that advantage was a key reason for the downfall of Michigan and Michigan State to SEC teams on New Year's Day bowl games.

"It just goes to show what happens when you can practice year-round," he said. "We can't do that in Michigan."

Bladwin (Wis.) Woodville linebacker Jake Keefer, a Wisconsin commit, said he recognizes he comes from a different place than many of the other guys in the room.

"I live in a town that has only a thousand people," he said. "And when I got up this morning it was 4 below."

That type of weather is more suited for hockey, a bigger sport in that area. Keefer, however, said he's not going to back down.

"It's an honor to be here and I'm eager to show I can compete with the best," he said.

Even athletes from Southern states feel they have something to prove here - even if their high school won the RivalsHigh national title.

That's the case with Batesville (Miss.) South Panola wide receiver Nick Brassell.

"People think just because we're from a small town in Mississippi we aren't as good," he said. "We can do anything they can do."

They'll find out for sure on Saturday.

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