Last Saturday, January 7, marked the 17th edition of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, in San Antonio, Texas. WHOOP was on hand as an official sponsor for the event, which featured 100 of the nation’s best high school football players.

In a matchup pitting East vs. West, the East emerged with a 27-17 victory in front of a record crowd of 40,568. Most Valuable Player honors went to Clemson-bound quarterback Hunter Johnson, who threw a 61-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to Henry Ruggs III (not yet committed) for the game’s first score.

Beyond the game itself, the week-long exhibition included a Coaches Academy, team practices and a National Combine for underclassmen hoping to one day be All-Americans.

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For the 100 players who participated in the Bowl, it represented the culmination of outstanding high school careers. Prior to arriving in San Antonio, many had already committed to the college of their choosing. Others used the weekend as a chance to showcase their decision, such as the nation’s top-ranked defensive back Jeffrey Okudah, who announced he’ll be attending Ohio State.

Running back Najee Harris, considered by many to be the No. 1 overall recruit in the country, opted to let his choice be known by flying directly from the game to Alabama, where he’ll suit up next year for the Crimson Tide.

Okudah made a pair of tackles on Saturday and broke up one pass play for the West squad, while his teammate Harris rushed for 23 yards on eight carries. Prior to the game, both Okudah (above) and Harris (below) trained with WHOOP Straps during West team practice.

The National Combine, held the day before the Bowl, included 600 underclassmen from around the country.  Modeled after the NFL Scouting Combine, players took part in drills such as the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, power pushup and shuttle runs.

For the younger players looking to become elite, what can they do to take the next step? The opportunity to measure oneself against the nation’s best can be a hard reality check. There will always be someone who is bigger, faster, stronger–someone with a higher vertical leap and a better 40 time.

It’s an extremely fine line that exists between the most physically gifted athletes and those just below. Smart training habits in the next year or two could make all the difference in determining which of the 600 combine participants eventually make it to the Bowl game.

Working out harder is not always the answer. Properly managing Strain, as well as prioritizing Sleep and Recovery are essential for optimizing performance. Players who embrace this through a better understanding of their body’s can get that edge necessary to make it to the next level.