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January 1, 2009LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - If a casual observer watched even a small portion of a practice for the Under Armour All-American Game, one would immediately notice the imposing presence of the White squad linebackers. With five-star Manti Te'o and three-star Dexter Moody, the team has two very solid players. However, it is a pair of Oklahoma commits that provide perhaps the most intimidating presence.
Tom Wort of New Braunfels (Tex.) and Ronnell Lewis from Dewar (Okla.) provide an incredibly talented inside-outside presence on the team.
However, both players have taken interesting paths to get to this week's big stage. Both come from untraditional football backgrounds to make up part of a very highly rated Sooner class.
Lewis hails from one of the smallest schools in Oklahoma. However, the Sooner coaches found the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Rivals250 prospect and brought him aboard. The big question mark for Lewis was that, at the time his recruitment began, he had never played a true game of football.
His high school team played eight-man football until moving up this past season. The OU coaches took a gamble on a talented athlete and it looks to have paid off as he has made the adjustment to the 11-man game quite nicely.
"I played eight-man for the last three years, but this year we played 11-man. We went up to Class A," Lewis said. "In eight-man, I played free safety and the game was just a little bit faster. Transitioning from free safety to linebacker in 11-man was just more downhill ... shedding my blocks and everything. I got a lot of work in the spring and before the season started, so it wasn't an incredibly tough transition."
Wort's rise to the Rivals250 is probably even less likely than his future college teammate's. Born in England, Wort didn't move to the United States until nearly five years ago. After moving to Rhode Island, he started playing football on a whim. However, it wasn't until his move to talent-rich Texas two years ago that colleges took notice of the 6-foot-1, 215-pound defender.
Offers began pouring in from all over the country. USC, LSU, Miami, Texas A&M and many other schools offered the Britain native before he eventually chose Oklahoma. Since Wort is still relatively new to the game, he says this week has been a good learning experience so far.
"We're just kind of going through the basics, getting ready and getting set up," he said. "We learned a lot with installation of the defenses. It's definitely been a learning experience for me. I've had good coaches my whole career, but there are NFL guys out here coaching us. They're good coaches and they know what they're doing, so we're all listening pretty closely."
The two players with unlikely paths to success have become fast friends.
"It's been cool. Ronnell's a real good player and he's a blast to be around," Wort said. "We're rooming together and we've gotten to be really good friends."
FAMOUS FACE CHECKS OUT PRACTICE
Among the 80 players participating in the UA All-America Game, none have bloodlines like wide receiver Duron Carter. Duron's father, Cris Carter, played 16 years in the NFL and amassed potential Hall of Fame numbers.
On Thursday, Cris took in Duron's practice and came away impressed with the entire presentation at the event.
Asked if he ever participated in such an event prior to enrolling at Ohio State, Carter simply smiled.
"Not like this," the former NFL star said. "This is unbelievable.
"I am impressed with the way they put it together. The way they take care of the kids, the housing, the travel, the equipment, the uniforms, names on the jersey for practice. You are talking about kids who had great high school careers and this is a reward for that. It is awesome."
Asked for the impact that he believes such events will have on the future of football, he believes it will be nothing but positive.
"I just hope it makes football better in 20 years," Carter said. "I think it will. The exposure the kids are getting, I think it is good for football."
Some of the players Carter singled out as impressing him during Thursday's practice included five-star quarterback Matt Barkley, four-star tight end Morrell Presley, and four-star linebacker Frankie Telfort.
WINDS WHIP THROUGH DISNEY
The temperatures were warm and the sun was out, but the weather was a key factor in Thursday's practice.
With blustery winds blowing across Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, the elements challenged quarterbacks to make crisp throws but perhaps most affected the kicking game.
Strong cross winds made it difficult for kickers Dustin Hopkins and Anthony Fera on both field goal attempts and kickoffs.
Hopkins showed a strong leg by nailing a 40-yard field goal with a stiff cross wind, but he had a kickoff balloon into the wind and struggle to reach the 20 yard line.
"(The wind) really affected kickoffs more than anything because when the ball was hanging in the air the wind caused the ball to almost go backwards it seemed," Hopkins said. "It also affected punt drops. It was blowing the ball to the side."
Fera had difficulty kicking field goals but that was partially attributable to working with Trent Richardson as his holder, in addition to the windy conditions.
Richardson got the ball down cleanly but rarely got the laces turned correctly. Most of Fera's misses were to the left.