HS football in Mexico City to include college choices

The first high school all-star game to be played outside the United States will take place Dec. 22 in Mexico City, three days after many of the players involved will reveal which colleges they will attend.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame World Bowl Presented by Xenith will be at Azul Stadium, with players chosen by a selection team of scouts, Hall of Famers and former NFL executives. Rod Woodson, the outstanding defensive back and special teams player who entered the Hall of Fame in 2009 will serve as host.

“The NCAA had the change in rules with the early signing day and we’re using that to our benefit,” Woodson says. “The players will be on the campus of Azteca TV and they get to walk a red carpet, pick the hat they are going to wear to show what school they’re going to. It will be a big deal and definitely worth going to as a player. It will make history and it will be something they will remember forever.”

More than 30 All-Americans will show their choices, and CBS Sports Network will televise the proceedings.

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Woodson recalls that when he signed to go to Purdue, only his parents accompanied him in the high school athletic director’s office. Maybe one newspaper covered it.

Woodson notes that many of the U.S. players have never been out of the country. They will find that American football, while not on the level of soccer south of the border, is plenty popular.

“In Mexico, they have been playing American football for more than 50 years, which surprised me to know they are doing it for that long,” he says. “They have some really good teams and stadiums around Mexico, and the same thing in Europe.

“The biggest difference from Mexican players than the players from the U.S., we have more resources and our athletes have year-round training, where in Mexico and Europe they don’t.

“So we have coaching sessions for the coaches to let them understand football even better and they can give some education to the players for a better product on the field.”

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WARNER’S GIFT

Hall of Famer Kurt Warner and his wife Brenda, through their First Things First Foundation, have given a Christmas surprise to two single mothers and their children in the Phoenix area.

With the help of some local businesses, the foundation is furnishing the new homes recently built and purchased by the two families through the foundation’s “Homes for the Holidays” program. The families were surprised by the gifts on Thursday, when they thought they were just going through a walk-through of the houses.

The homes were built through the First Things First Foundation, the Habitat for Humanity and others to help working single mothers become homeowners. The foundation says 49 such homes have been built through the program since 2002, 23 in the Phoenix area.

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JERSEY REPORT

How popular is Saquon Barkley? Well, lots of fans want to look like him.

Enough so that Barkley tops the DICK’S Sporting Goods Jersey report for sales.

Not only is the New York Giants running back’s jersey No. 1 among rookies, he’s No. 1 overall. And so are the Giants, despite being 5-8 and on the very fringes of playoff contention.

Barkley is trailed by Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Browns QB Baker Mayfield, Patriots QB Tom Brady and Bears linebacker Khalil Mack in the overall rankings. Mayfield is the only other rookie in the top 10, while Mack is the only defensive player.

Behind Mack on the defensive players’ sales list are Denver linebacker Von Miller, Steelers LB T.J. Watt, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett and Panthers LB Luke Kuechly. Watt’s older and more established brother, Houston DE J.J. Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is sixth.

Trailing the Giants in the team rankings are the Steelers, Eagles, Bears and Browns.

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SUPER BOWL CRUCIAL CATCH

In association with the American Cancer Society and the NFL’s Crucial Catch program, one fan and a guest will win tickets to the Super Bowl — and sit next to an as-yet unnamed celebrity.

With a $10 contribution to the society, someone can win two tickets to the game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta; pregame sideline passes; a meet and greet with the halftime show headliner, Maroon 5; two tickets to the NFL Honors award show at which The Associated Press announces its individual award winners; and access to several parties.

Plus, round-trip airfare and lodging is included.

Fanthropic, a subsidiary of 15 Seconds of Fame (15SOF), a social media app that delivers fans videoboard and TV broadcast appearances from live events, is partnering with the ACS and NFL on the project.

All proceeds will support the American Cancer Society’s Community Health Advocates implementing Nationwide Grants for Empowerment and Equity (CHANGE) program, which promotes health equity and addresses cancer-related disparities. CHANGE grants are funded by the NFL’s Crucial Catch partnership with ACS. Funds raised address cancer prevention, early detection, and timely access to follow-up care, helping more people catch cancer early, when it may be easier to treat. These efforts have impacted more than 750,000 people, particularly in high-risk communities.

“It’s such an honor to work with Fanthropic to offer this amazing experience for a fan to attend the Super Bowl, and raise critical funds to help us continue to fight cancer,” said Sharon Byers, chief development, marketing and communications officer for the American Cancer Society.

Entry forms are available on NFL.com/CrucialCatch.

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GRANDMA’S LOVE

Browns guard Joel Bitonio has a campaign manager working on his Pro Bowl election.

“My grandma really wants me to go,” he said. “She thinks I’m a good player and she votes a lot.”

The fifth-year pro has a good chance of being chosen for his first Pro Bowl. If his grandma, Jan Akin, who lives in Durango, Colorado, and plans to attend the game, has anything to do with it, he’s a shoo-in.

“She votes a lot,” said Bitonio. “She hasn’t given me an update, but she’s retired. She does other things, but she knows how to work the computer and she stuffs the ballot box.”

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AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Arnie Stapleton, and Sports Writers Bob Baum and Tom Withers contributed.

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