When some of the nation's top high school football players take the field on Thursday night in the Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, a few of the names on the back of jerseys might appear familiar. And while "Griffey" -- worn by wide receiver Trey Griffey -- and Sanders -- worn by athlete Deion Sanders Jr. -- present obvious links to past athletic greatness, that pair is just a small part of a shocking number of relatives of former pro athletes who will take part in one of the nation's most elite high school football all-star games.
Officially, 13 different players on the two Under Armour squads' rosters are related to former pros in either football or baseball, with the younger Griffey the only MLB descendent. That's 13 of 92 total players, meaning that approximately one in seven of Under Armour's choice of the nation's best senior football players has grown up around past football greatness.
Clearly, that ratio is too strong to be a mere coincidence. While most of the other relatives of former NFLers don't bring the cache of Deion Sanders or prep quarterback Chad Kelly's uncle, former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, the likes of wide receivers Cayleb Jones and Avery Johnson have still grown up around the bright spotlights afforded to pro stars and their families.
According to Under Armour Director of Sports Marketing Walker Jones, the company hosting the game hardly sees that as a drawback. Rather, Jones feels that having one in seven of the players in Orlando for Thursday's game may help some of the nation's top high school athletes get an even more realistic feel for what the media attention they are likely to face at the next level might feel like.
"I think that is to have those type of players in the game -- and having the likes of Joe Montana's kid a couple of years ago -- Deion's kid and Trey Griffey this year … Having these kids that have grown up in that type of environment really helps other players, too," Jones told Prep Rally. "Having Ken Griffey come to our game speaks a lot. Other kids look up to him [and Trey Griffey]. Seeing Deion is out there coaching his son.
"I think it does help because these kids feed off each other, they listen, and they get a lot of energy good and bad. The more you have mature high school seniors around that have been through that, that helps. I know high school has changed a little bit, but there's no way that any of these players receive media exposure to this level. To have kids who have been around that and had microphones in their face, that helps raise the maturity level of everyone in the game."
That celebrity-feel has also been enforced once again by Under Armour's coaches, with former NFL head men Steve Mariucci and Herm Edwards leading the two squads. The aforementioned Deion Sanders is coaching his son and other defensive backs, while former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson has taught the receiving prospects and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke has coached the teams' quarterbacks.
While the demands of those coaches may have come with a learning curve -- Jones said that Edwards' opening speech to the players stressed the importance of being on time … or else -- those routines have also been reinforced by some of the most high profile recruits, who first received attention because of who they were related to, not what they could do on the field.
Whether or not those star-related prep phenoms go on to achieve significant success in college or the NFL remains to be seen, but given their -- and the Under Armour game's -- current trajectory, it might not be a shock to see one of their children suiting up in the game in the decades ahead.