By Alex Byington

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS - Darius James couldn't believe his eyes.

"So I get to pick something from here?" asked the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Harker Heights lineman while gazing through the packet of gear that accompanied his invitation to the Under Armour High School All-America Game.

James' eyes sparkled at the notion he'd be given the prize of Under Armour athletic gear just for playing a game he enjoys.

But it's the folks at Under Armour and ESPN who are getting the prize after James, who is widely considered the nation's No. 1 ranked center in the Class of 2013, agreed last week to play in the sixth-annual Under Armour High School All-America Game typically held the first week in January in St. Petersburg, Fla.

James - a four-star recruit, who holds 15 Division I offers after receiving one from Florida early Wednesday - isn't close to making a bigger decision any time soon but listed Alabama, Florida, LSU, Oklahoma and Texas among his Top 5, in no particular order. James is scheduled to attend Junior Days at Oklahoma on March 3 and at LSU on March 17.

"It's been pretty crazy. Growing up I never thought it'd be anything like this, but just to hear all the people talking about me, it just feels like out of this world because I'm not used to it," James said of all the attention.

Although many athletes are given the opportunity to publicly announce their college choice during the nationally-televised game, the low-key James said he doesn't plan to partake in any such spectacle.

"Nah, I was thinking about it the other day and I kind of want to have a decision before I go into the football season, just so I have some security just incase I get hurt or something," James said.

With his inclusion, James is the area's first prospect to play in the ESPN-sponsored all-star event widely considered to include many of the nation's elite players. Earlier this year, former Knights teammate Camrhon Hughes, now an early-enrollee at Texas, participated in the newly-created U.S. Semper Fidelis All-American Game.

"It's a real honor, because not a lot of people get to do it, especially out of this area," James said. "It's going to be an experience, it's going to be real fun. I ain't never been that far outside of Texas."

The area's last such high-profile recruit was former Shoemaker standout and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Roy Miller, who played in the 2005 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio before a stellar career at Texas. Other area all-star alumni to be named Army All-Americans include Ellison's Tommie Harris (2001) and Killeen's Brandon Smith (2004).

"It makes me re-humble myself and makes me think, 'Dang, I still have that shot' but I know I still have to go to school and do all this stuff because they didn't stop working after they got to play in one of those games," James said. "So I just have to keep working."

The Under Armour alumni list includes a who's who of the nation's top Division I talent over the last several years, including several that have already made an impact in the NFL such as receivers A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals/Georgia) and Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons/Alabama). Several more are expected to be among the top 32 selected players in April's NFL Draft including tailback Trent Richardson and defensive end Courtney Upshaw, who helped lead Alabama to the BCS National Championship this past season.

Making the rounds at several nationally-recognized skills camps in the last year, James said was able to soak up the experience of attending such events while watching how Hughes and other players handled themselves at the Semper Fidelis game in December.

"I learned it's not all just fun and games," James said. "It's a job."

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