SAN ANTONIO, Texas — On a brightly lit football field inside the Alamodome, a disparate chorus of clamor and musical instruments reverberate throughout the structure as high school football players and band members exhaustively practice for the performance of their lives, the 2018 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
These young men and women train with Soldier Mentors, elite members of the Army fit to provide professional guidance and inspiration.
These Soldier Mentors are a prominent feature of the All-American Bowl Game Week, an annual event that highlights the nation’s foremost high school football players and marching band teams, Jan. 2-6 at the Alamodome.
“We do this every year because it’s a great way to put the Army’s message out,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Waters, a native of Orlando, Florida. “We let the students know that we’re here for them, answer any questions that they have, and lift them up and support them in their future endeavors.”
In addition to attending practices and events throughout the week, the Soldier Mentors also engage with the players in community service activities for non-profit organizations and medical centers.
“I’ve seen throughout the years the benefits that the Army gets from these games, as well as for the community of San Antonio,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Lei-Sam, a native of Samoa and the Soldier Mentorship Program Manager for the All-American Bowl. “It’s very humbling, and it’s an honor to be here and represent the Army during these games.”
As the noncommissioned officer in charge of the mentorship program, Lei-Sam oversees all of the Soldier Mentors and their respective activities with the students. This includes planning events that cultivate deeper relationships between the Soldier Mentors and the students.
“For this year, I’ve also implemented new things such as the 7-on-7 flag football game, so we can further build camaraderie between [the Soldiers] and the high school football players,” Lei-Sam said.
Both Lei-Sam and Waters state that a major goal of the Soldier Mentorship Program is to bolster the players’ future career aspirations.
Lei-Sam said he hopes that these football players end up in the NFL someday, and as they progress in their careers, the players get to see what the Army is about and how Soldiers live up to the Army values.
“It’s a privilege to be here with all of these students,” Waters said. “All of them are future collegiate players potentially going into D-1 and D-2 schools, and they’ve all been very supportive of the military.”
For the participants of the All-American Bowl, the Soldier Mentors have definitely made a profound impression on them. According to Brandon Brady, a varsity football player and student of Bryon P. Steele II High School in Cibolo, Texas, it’s a great opportunity to train alongside Soldiers.
“(The Soldier Mentors) are definitely role models to each and every one of us,” said Brady. “In just seeing their discipline and the way they do things, it’s going to carry over to us in football and in life. It’s amazing to be able to share this moment with them, play against them, and have some fun.”
The 2018 All-American Bowl will take place at the Alamodome Saturday, Jan. 6, at 1:00 p.m. EST, and will be televised live by NBC.