ITALY — Football may be over for most of Ellis County, but same can't be said for a pair of Gladiators trying to make an impression in the national football arena.
Blue-Grey All-American Bowl representatives selected seniors Aaron and Austin Pittmon to play with the Grey Team during the 2 p.m. Jan. 14 game at EverBank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguar NFL franchise.
"We took it upon ourselves to put in the extra work needed to prepare for life on the collegiate level," Austin said about him and his identical twin brother's opportunity to shine in front of some of the country's biggest name coaches and athletic directors. "Our final season was a blessing, too. We had some really good backs behind us. When you have talent like that on your team it's not hard to look good."
He said after a couple summer collegiate combines reached out to IHS trying to make contact with he and his hulking doppleganger, doors began to open slowly and then abruptly like a swat team kicking chasing a perp.
"We just want to make sure we get a good education," Aaron chimed, his southern drawl evident in every syllable spoken. "We want to stay together, but if we got split up, we'd be OK, too. The point is to go to college and learn all we can. We've run into some college coaches and former NFL players already, but there are about to be a lot of opportunities to absorb a lot of football knowledge in a short period of time."
Those doors, through Jacksonville and its plethora of networking opportunities could land the pair on the doorstep of Tarleton State University or a bigger dog in the hunt for a NCAA National Championship title.
Both Austin, the younger brother by a whopping three minutes, and Aaron played two-way football throughout the year and helped the Gladiators claim their second consecutive University Interscholastic League 2A playoff berth and running backs like Kendrick Norwood (920 yds, 7 Tds) and Jeremiah Thompson (319 yds, 3 TDs) dominate their district opponents. Behind one of the most physically imposing offensive lines in Texas, Italy gained 2,692 yards of total offense.
Aaron and Austin will join the likes of current Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel, Oklahoma wide receiver Zach Farrar and LSU offensive lineman Donavaughn Campbell, who were part of the 2016 and 2015 classes. The Blue-Grey Football Selection Committee selected the Pittmon's from more than 6,750 players who competed at regional football combines this past summer.
Kade Warner, the third child of legendary NFL quarterback Kurt Warner and junior wide receiver at Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale, Arizona is also an alumnus of the bowl game. He led the state of Arizona with 96 receptions during his junior season, which helping him rack up 160 total catches in his two varsity seasons.
During the last three years of the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl, more than 85 percent of the players selected earned football scholarships.
Of the 202 athletes throughout the nation that attended the bowl between 2014 and 2016, 75 are attending a Power 5 school (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 conferences). The Blue-Grey Football Selection Committee projects more than 350 college football programs will either be attending or, in most cases, monitoring the live streamed event with the ability to replay the action over and over to evaluate the recruits.
Randall Cunningham, a former Philadelphia Eagle quarterback, Mike Alstott, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer fullback and Troy Brown, a former New England Patriot wide receiver, join Ricky Proehl, a former 17-year NFL veteran and the current Carolina Panthers wide receivers coach, George Teague, a former Dallas Cowboy safety, and Brian Dawkins, a former Philidelphia Eagle safety and current ESPN NFL Analyst, as Blue-Grey Bowl coaches.
Alstott is a Joliet, Illinois native that earned six Pro Bowl selections and Cunningham is a Santa Barbara native that led the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Conference Championship in 1998. Alstott, as well as Brown, is a Super Bowl Champion.
"Football's not done for us either," Aaron said with lighthearted chuckle as he leaned forward in the chair and placed his muscular forearms on his knees. "Our plan is to open a few doors in Jacksonville and make good for ourselves in college so we can parlay the talents we were given into a top-notch education."
The Coliseum in Los Angeles, California, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida and AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas have each hosted the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl. Impact Football Network will live stream the game on its network.
As of Tuesday, Aaron and Austin raised $1,290 of the $3,000 needed to purchase All-American Xenith helmets, game jerseys and pants and hotel accommodations. Donations can be made by visiting their GoFundMe account at https://www.gofundme.com/2ydac9g.
Marcus S. Marion can be reached at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusMarionWNI.