Lil Sho. His nickname says it all. The moniker, for those who are unaware, belongs to Jalen McCleskey and the senior from St. Paul’s (LA) put on a show during this past weekend’s Blue-Grey All-American Bowl at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
The 5-10 and 165-pound receiver and Oklahoma State commit delivered the game-winner, an 18-yard touchdown reception from Johnny Weidmaier with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, to give the West a thrilling victory, 7-6, over the East.
“I knew that the ball was coming to me. I had to make the play. On a big stage like this, it does not get any better, getting that W for my team,” McCleskey said. “I went out with a bang in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl, not many people can say that.”
There were plenty of memorable moments over the course of the game. It’s what happens when some of the nation’s premier prospects in the Class of 2015 are gathered in one place, at one time, and have a staff one-time NFL veterans as their coaches.
McCleskey and Weidmaier wouldn’t have been in position to nearly steal the spotlight if their teammate Trinity Benson had not done his part. On what started out as a trick-play, the wide receiver picked up 65 yards and moved the ball down to the red zone.
That set the stage for West coach Mark McMillian and offensive coordinator Arlen Harris to dial up the sequence for Lil Sho. “We wanted to put the ball into the hands of one our top playmakers, and the rest, thanks to Jalen, well that’s history,” McMillian said.
Not to be lost in the dramatic finish was the effort put forth by the East. Taylor Middlebrooks earned his keep on special teams with multiple well-placed punts during the action and pair of field goals from less than 40 yards out. Without him, things are different.
On the offensive side of the ball for the East, coach George Teague and offensive coordinator Tony Banks got the most out of quarterbacks such as Indiana commit Austin King, Florida Atlantic commit Daniel Parr from and rising recruit Adam McAfee.
On the outside, lined up at wide receiver, Mississippi State commit Jonnas Spivey and Indiana State commit Dante Jones were difficult to stop, at times. Underrated, Dash Cameron, Stephen Benedik and Quinton Jenkins Jr. each contributed to the cause.
With an offensive line anchored by TCU commit Jozie Milton, Nebraska commit Christian Gaylord and Division I target Grant Burguillos, running backs like Army commit Calen Taylor and up-and-comers Elza Evans and Tyler Curtis gained yards on the ground.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive backs Darryl Williams, Tanner Baird and Caleb Bischoff held their own for the East. And then some. Worth mentioning, Holy Cross commit Damion Baker certainly did nothing to tarnish to his growing reputation.
The accomplishments of the West and McCleskey have been well-documented. He had help though. Wide receiver and Louisville commit Dahu Green was disruptive, along with Conner Bianchini and Tyler Nix. Tight end Nico Lima took advantage of his chances.
Offensive lineman William Auwae and Ford O’Brien did what they were supposed to do and helped to keep their quarterbacks upright. Boise State commit Brett Rypien and Houston commit Ben Hicks had more than enough time to find the open man.
D’Andre Jackson and Devon Boyd took pressure off the signal-callers with determined yardage on the ground and they did so from start to finish. Other running backs who didn’t shy away from the spotlight were T.J. Foster, Landon Ventura and Jacob Lowrie.
McMillian and position coach Brian Dawkins, an NFL legend, guided the secondary for the West. As a result, Nebraska commit Avery Anderson, Brian Dawkins Jr., Jordan Nelson and Justin Thomas had an interception. Davis Lewis broke up multiple passes.
The play at linebacker kept the score close throughout. McNeese State commit Sage Seay was good, as advertised. Rick Rivera Jr. and Kevin O’Neill, on the other hand, opened up plenty of eyes and both will benefit from some added college interest.
Down in the trenches, the big boys for the West took care of business. Defensive lineman Josh Davis made life difficult for the opponent. Same thing can said be about R.J. Robiskie, Riley Stringer, Brent Rayford, Carl Williams III and Kaleb Carroll.
Several recruits, some more well-known than others, also did well in this setting. Expect details on those individuals later this week. In the meantime, however, when everyone looks back year’s from now, they’ll remember Lil Sho and the game-winning grab made by McCleskey to secure the victory for the West over the East in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl.