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January 9, 2012
SAN ANTONIO - Some felt it began on the first series - when two successful pass defenses led to a three-and-out for the East.
Others felt it started at the first practice on Monday - when the West defensive backs realized their unit might be pretty special.
Then again, it may have started months ago and miles away from here - when the California dominated-group began meeting up at various camps and combines.
This much is clear: The West defensive backs were the best unit in the 24-12 Army Bowl victory over the East on Saturday at the Alamodome.
They picked off passes, forced fumbles, chased down runners in the backfield. And they hit. Oh, did they hit.
"We had a bond right from the start," Ishmael Adams of Westlake Christian (Calif.) Oaks Christian said. "That's important. Once you get the bond and realize that everyone else has got your back you can really go after it and that was we did."
Adams was one of five California players in the secondary.
Shaq Thompson, a five-star from Sacramento (Calif.) Grant, led the contingent. They were joined by Byron Marshall of San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian, Brandon Beaver of Compton (Calif.) Dominguez and Kevon Seymour of Pasadena (Calif.) Muir.
"I knew we were going to be good on the first day because I knew a lot of these guys already," Adams said. "But once I saw some of the other guys could get after it, I said, 'Ok, let's go do it.' "
The trio discovered at the beginning of the week that this was no ordinary group - and that this was no ordinary all-star game.
"At the first practice, they said there wasn't going to be any hitting - and then on the first play, guys were tackling," he said. "We kind of said, 'Ok, if this is how it's going to be, it's time to get down to business.' "
They did just that.
The West quarterbacks combined to go just 11-for-22 for 140 yards. They threw three interceptions but not a single touchdown.
"They had some great athletes back there," five-star East quarterback Gunner Kiel said.
The unit credited assistant coach Gary Green of San Antonio Sam Houston for molding those athletes into all-stars.
"The coach kept telling us to get all out," Pope said. "He just wanted to see us attack the ball and hit. He said he didn't care what happened as long as we kept hitting."
Even if they weren't always credited for their efforts.
Adams stripped the East's Stefon Diggs of the ball early in the game. The officials ruled the ball went out of bounds, but replays -and Diggs - suggested otherwise.
"He told me, 'I got away with one out there,' " Adams said of Diggs. "I said, 'It's no big deal. I'm not going to go crazy about it, it's an all-star game.' "
All-stars is the best way to describe this unit.