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January 2, 2012
SAN ANTONIO - Many colleges released new radical versions of their team uniforms this past season in yet another effort to lure prospects to their school.
The actual number on the uniform may be a bigger selling point.
As the players made their way through the U.S. Army All-American Bowl registration process, all talked about how honored they were to be selected and how eager they were to see how they matched up with other stars.
The only complaint: The number they were assigned.
For some, it was a minor inconvenience.
"The number doesn't make the player, the player makes the number," Brian Kimbrow of Memphis (Tenn.) East said after being disappointed to get No. 31 instead of his usual No. 3.
Others were a bit more bothered.
Kevon Seymour of Pasadena (Calif.) Muir was annoyed he had No. 41 instead of his preferred No. 1. And Seymour willingly admits he'll look at the rosters of potential colleges to see if No. 1 is available. If it's not, the school's chances of landing him diminish.
One was visibly upset.
Mike Davis of Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson made such a fuss about his assigned No. 16 that he was given a new number (14), making him the only player without his name on his jersey. But that didn't help - neither was the No. 28 he wanted.
Number assignments are a reccurring issue at all-star events. Not only are stars used to getting the number they want, many want the same number. So putting in requests (as all games ask the players to do) doesn't necessarily solve the problem.
"What are we going to do? We've got 35 kids who want a single-digit number, and we've only got nine," bowl official John Schmid said.
What they need are more kids like Gunner Kiel.
Kiel, the No. 1 rated quarterback prospect from Columbus (Ind.) East, got his high school number (11) but said he didn't really care either way.
"They could give me No. 25 or No. 46 or No. 99 - just as long as they let me play," he said.
Kiel, in fact, said the only reason he was No. 11 in high school was because that was the number he was assigned on his first day as a freshman.
But ultimately, what's in a number?
For some it's good luck. For others, it's a tribute.
Derrick Woods of Inglewood (Calif.) High wanted No. 1 in honor of a former teammate - he got it.
Arik Armstead of Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove wanted No. 9 as a tribute to an inspirational uncle who had passed away. No. 9 wasn't available, but the bowl did him one better, handing him No. 99 instead.
Yes, pick a number - any number.
Or should you?
As the No. 1 cornerback in the country, Tracy Howard of Miramar (Fla.) High has his choice of colleges. But he doesn't expect to have his choice of numbers when he gets there.
"That's ignorant," he said. "Why would you think you could just get any number you wanted? I don't think anyone is going to outwork me, but at the same time, if guys have been in the system and are doing the work, they get the number. You get a number, work hard and then you'll get what you want."
Howard, it should be noted, got a coveted No. 3 here. And while he says he would be happy to work for that number again in college, there's a limit to the starting point.
"Let's be serious, I'm not going anywhere to be No. 45," he said.