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October 26, 2011Daphne (Ala.) High School has produced top flight high school and college prospects like former West Virginia quarterback Pat White, and former Alabama defensive tackles Jeremy Clark and Kenny King.
All three played or play in the NFL currently.
So when Daphne head coach Glenn Vickery watched a running back by the name of T.J. Yeldon return a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown as a freshman against Pace (Fla.) High School, he knew he had a special player that may top them all.
"He's right there with him," Vickery said. "They were good kids, T.J. is a good kid. He was better than the rest all the way through. You saw the talent and the competitiveness. I've seen talented kids that are not competitive, he brings that whole package. All the way through you could tell he was going to be an All-American type player."
Yeldon has been selected to play in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, joining an elite group of All-Americans from across the country. Yeldon was honored at a ceremony at his high school on Wednesday morning.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound back has rushed for 1,773 yards and accounted for 28 total touchdowns through nine games of the regular season. Vickery believes Yeldon's talent is comparable to another former Army All-American and current NFL star.
"It was ironic that they said Adrian Peterson played in this game, and there are those that think over 6-foot is too tall to play running back, and I don't think there are many Adrian Petersons around, but I think he's that kind of back. He plays hard, has great hands. He was our slot receiver last year, he wasn't even our leading rusher. He's that 6-foot-2 guy who can play running back."
For Yeldon, the opportunity to make history was a remarkable feeling. Yeldon grew up watching the Army All-American Bowl and to now be preparing to play in the prestigious game is an honor.
"It means a lot, to be the first one selected from Daphne High School, it's a blessing, I give it all to God for blessing me with this ability and it's a great feeling," Yeldon said.
"I always watched this game and I always wanted to play in one. When I got the invite, I was excited. I didn't wait, I just went ahead and signed the papers and told them I wanted to play in it."
An important part of the Army All-American Bowl selection process states that all athletes are in good standing within their schools and communities. Vickery believes Yeldon epitomizes what the premier high school game in the country is looking for.
"It's a credit to our community, it's not a coaching thing, or a player thing, the teachers he had through the years, the youth coaches," Vickery said. "There are many kids that don't have this chance and T.J. is the model student-athlete. His grades are good, he deserves this.
"T.J. is a low key guy. Sometimes you see a lot of noise from star players at other levels, but you don't see that in T.J. He's successful, but he doesn't wear it. He's a five-star player, regardless of what some people think, he's a five-star player, but he doesn't wear it. He's a team player and a big part of his happiness is team success."
Yeldon's parents, Timothy and Kim, instilled at an early age the importance of good grades and taking care of business off the field, in order to excel on it.
"If I didn't have good grades, my parents wouldn't let me play football," Yeldon said. "I have to stay out of trouble and I'm blessed to have my parents support. They mean everything to me, they love me, they've never missed a game since I was little and they've always been there to support me."
Yeldon's parents were in awe most of the ceremony, as they watched their son be honored for his, and their, hard work as Yeldon grew into one of the nation's top players.
"It was exciting, overwhelming, like a dream come true," Timothy Yeldon said. "There was a lot of hard work, watching him grow up running that ball since he was six years old, it's something else."
For T.J.'s father Timothy, he didn't need to be a talent scout to realize his son was different and had a bright future.
"I just saw a fast kid when he touched the ball," Timothy said. "There was something special in him, he walked before he was nine months old, he ran before he walked. I would hold my keys up and he would go after them. It's just so exciting and we're really blessed."
Planning to join Yeldon in the Army All-American Bowl in January are fellow Auburn commits, quarterback Zeke Pike and running back Jovon Robinson.
"It's going to be good because one day we'll be playing in Auburn together," Yeldon said. "It's a good feeling to have guys around that I'll be around at Auburn."
Yeldon and the West team take on the East in the 12th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The game will be nationally televised on NBC.