Texans linebacker Brian Cushing (second from right) and Texans Ambassador J.J. Moses (far right) join U.S. Army All-Americans, from left to right: Jake Matthews, Connor Woods, DeAndrew White and Trey Hopkins.
As a senior at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, N.J., Brian Cushing played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio in 2005.
Now the frontrunner for the NFL defensive rookie of the year award following a standout college career at USC, Cushing spoke to four current high school stars at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl's "Best of the Best" Kickoff Dinner on Tuesday at Reliant Stadium.
"Just the opportunity to come into the game was special," Cushing said, reflecting on his experience four years ago. "You see the guys in years before go up to it, and then you get the call – I believe it was Tom Lemming that called me. That was just an unbelievable moment. When he asked me, 'Do you want to play?' I said, 'Of course, there's no question about it. It's the best guys in the country, and I want to prove myself against them.'"
Ninety high school seniors were selected to play in this year's U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Five are from Southeast Texas, including four from the Greater Houston area: offensive tackle Trey Hopkins and wide receiver DeAndrew White (North Shore High School, Galena Park); offensive tackle Jake Matthews, son of Texans offensive assistant Bruce Matthews (Fort Bend Elkins, Missouri City); and quarterback Connor Woods (Second Baptist, Houston). All four were at Tuesday's dinner.
Matthews is committed to play at Texas A&M, White is going to Alabama and Woods and Hopkins are headed to the University of Texas.
None of those schools are Cushing's alma mater, but the 2009 first-round draft pick was happy to offer the players his best advice.
"Any time I get the opportunity to talk to guys in the situation I've been in before and try to help them, it's huge, because I know that guys have helped me and I've taken their advice in the past," Cushing said.
Cushing, who attended the event on the Texans players' day off, met with the high school All-Americans individually at the conclusion of the dinner.
"It's a great honor just to meet him and to get to talk to him," said Hopkins, a 6-4, 285-pound lineman. "He just talked to me about hitting the ground running – first, enjoy this game that I'm going to be playing in and get to know everybody I can, especially guys that are going to be going to the same school as me. And when I get to school, really take lessons from the older guys and just soak up all the knowledge I can as quickly as I can."
Among the dozens of the players' family members at the event was Bruce Matthews. The Houston Oilers Hall of Famer stole away from his coaching duties downstairs in the Texans' offices to spend a few minutes at the dinner in the Verizon Wireless West Club of Reliant Stadium.
Wearing his Texans coaching garb - a white team polo, blue shorts and tennis shoes - at the formal event, Matthews was beaming with pride at his son being selected to the Army's all-star game. The game annually is televised nationally on NBC, and Matthews said that he and his son have watched it together in the past.
"It's really a big honor, and I think it's something that he has silently aspired to do," he said. "Actually being named to the game and actually having it be next month is really exciting and something Jake's really excited about and the whole family, too.
"If the circumstances are right, then we'd love to watch the game. Hopefully, we're (Texans) in the playoffs, though."
Former Texans kick returner and current Houston Texans Ambassador J.J. Moses also spoke at the dinner. Lieutenant Colonel Michael A. Bottiglieri, Commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Houston, spoke on behalf of the Army.
For photos of this event and of other Texans players in the community on Tuesday, Dec. 1, click here.