ST. PETERSBURG — Alonso defensive end Anthony Chickillo spent the practices leading up to Wednesday’s Under Armour All-America Game playing opposite the top recruit in the nation.
Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney came to Florida with the title of ESPNU’s No. 1 overall prospect. But Clowney left impressed with his new teammate, so much so that they talked about making sure they played again — in college.
“He said he’s going to go wherever I go, so we’ll see if we can stay together,” said Clowney, who played through a nagging left hip injury. “That would be pretty fun, me on one end and him on the other. I’ve got to give it to him. When I got here I told him that, that I was impressed."
Clowney and Chickillo, hulking 240-pound bookend pass rushers, carried their team early, but the Click-Clack (Red) Team needed its smallest — and least known — player to pull out a last-second 24-22 win over the Micro-G (White) Team in the fourth Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field.
Reading (Pa.) Exeter Township’s Taylor Bertolet converted a 24-yard field goal as time expired — after a defensive penalty allowed a second opportunity after his first attempt was blocked.
“I wasn’t the most recruited guy,” the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Texas A&M commit said. “Kickers aren’t recruited like the rest of these guys, but that’s what we’re here for. That’s what we train for every single day, to do this.”
Playing in front of roughly 100 family members and friends, Chickillo, who had four tackles, 1½ sacks, a fumble recovery and one quarterback hit, was named the winning team’s MVP. Chickillo, a soft Miami oral commit who opened his recruiting after the Hurricanes’ coaching change, will have plenty to talk about with new ’Canes coach Al Golden, who Chickillo said is slated to visit him today. Chickillo will then take an official to Florida this weekend.
“I’m never going to forget this event for my whole life,” Chickillo said. “Everyone’s a good football player here, but they’re all good guys, too.
“All these guys I’m never going to forget for the rest of my life.”
The ever-increasing popularity of high school football was evident. The event drew an announced crowd of 23,259, bettering the game’s Trop debut last year by more than 2,000. It marked the first time the game appeared on ESPN in a midweek prime-time slot.
“You can definitely feel a bigger energy tonight,” said Drew Russell, the game’s director. “We definitely want to have a bowl game atmosphere here. Our ultimate goal is to fill this place.”
The game drew 3,200 more fans than the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl played on the same field just two weeks ago.
The night had its share of unique fanfare. Eight top prospects committed after commercial breaks, with Auburn snagging two. Rapper Fabolous performed halftime and postgame sets at midfield.
On the field, Chickillo recovered a second-quarter fumble that led to the game’s first touchdown two plays later — a 59-yard pass from UCLA commit Brett Hundley to Devon Blackmon that gave the Red a 7-3 lead.
Florida State commit Karlos Williams (Davenport Ridge) returned a Jeff Driskel interception 47 yards to give the White team a 9-7 lead, but Alabama commit Bradley Sylve returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown.
The Red team went up 21-9 on Florida quarterback commit Jeff Driskel’s record 63-yard run — Driskel ran for a game-high 80 yards — but UCLA commit Max Wittek brought the White team back with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
But Kiehl Frazer, an Auburn recruit, hit Eli Rogers for a 43-yard bomb in the final minute, setting up Bertolet’s winning kick.
“A win is always good, especially a win like that,” said Nature Coast wide receiver Ja’Juan Story. “That’s how football games should always be played.”