A gym full of Lake Highlands High School students, teachers and staff sat patiently waiting, wondering about the super-secret announcement. The army personnel and the military-themed backdrop hinted at the occasion, but the Wildcat band played on until someone with authority stepped confidently to the microphone to make the introduction.

General David Mann had arrived from Fort Knox to extend a personal, formal invitation to Wildcat offensive lineman Kent Perkins to play football in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

“Words can’t express how proud we are,” said Tonia Bables, Kent’s mom, who attended the ceremony with her mother, Joycie Luster. “Kent has been a pleasure.”

The game will be played at San Antonio’s Alamodome on Saturday, January 5, 2013 and televised nationally on NBC.  The selection process involved 400 nominees, from which 90 football players and 125 marching musicians were selected. The army will travel 30,000 miles to extend invitations to the selected participants.

“We knew Kent had real talent when he was a 7th grader at LHJH,” Tonia told me. “Once the defensive coach saw him play, he waved to us to come over. He knew Kent was special.”

“It’s not about the victory, it’s about the experience,” said Sgt. Mjr. Thorpe, speaking to Kent about what it will be like to play at the All-American Bowl. “It’s going to be a great day.”

Various Army personnel counseled Kent with sage advice before he heads off to play football for UT next year. “The Army believes in focusing on character and morals,” said retired Lt. Col. Kevin Smith. “Before you do something think, ‘what would my mom say?’ Everything is preparation for life.”

“It’s been awesome seeing him grow as a player” said Wildcat quarterback Trent Jones, who’s played football with Kent since they were kids. “He was already 6’5” in the 7th grade, and I knew he was something special.”

“He was shy and quiet, but I got to know him over time and he came out of his shell. Everyone talks about how great he is, and he is. He’s a leader by example. Not a ‘pre-game speech’ type of guy, but he’s the hardest worker. Others follow him and he does what he’d told to do.”

Trent, who’s applying to the Universities of Arkansas and Texas, says either way he’ll follow Kent’s play at UT.

“It’s crazy to think my friend will be on the field.”

“This is a great honor,” said Kent when presented his golden All-American Bowl jersey by General Mann. “I want to thank my teammates for coming out to support me. Thanks also to the LHHS coaching staff – I wouldn’t be here without them. Thank you to my teachers for encouraging me, and last but not least, thanks to my mom and grandmother. And, to the delight of the crowd, Kent predicted a 50-0 victory over Berkner Friday night.