Friendship seniors complete UA trio

Washington, D.C., Friendship Collegiate sent another signal to whoever was willing to listen. It's football program is for real.

The first declaration came in February when the high school had nearly 20 players sign national letters of intent. On Wednesday, two of the school's star players in the Class of 2013 -- offensive lineman Derwin Gray and linebacker Yannick Ngakoue -- were presented with their Under Armour All-America Game jerseys as part of the American Family Insurance Selection Tour to signify their roster spots in the high school all-star event to be held at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Jan. 4.

"I think it's huge," said Friendship head coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, who was a coach at last year's event. "I was a part of it a year ago, I know how special it is. We've been fortunate to have three kids in two years with another one that has already been invited for next year.

"It tells us we're going the right things."

Defensive lineman Eddie Goldman, who signed with Florida State in February, was the Friendship selection last year. Junior defensive back Jalen Tabor already has been selected to participate in 2014 game. Not bad for a program that hasn't even been in existence for a decade, has its locker room in a trailer and has more dirt on its field than grass.

"It means a lot to us," Ngakoue said. "We're an inner-city school and to have two people get selected [in one year], that's real good. It's really unheard of in an inner-city school. It makes our program look good. That makes kids wants to come to our school."

Gray was one of those kids who wanted to come to Friendship. He transferred to the school last year to help grow his game -- and his name. It worked. The offensive lineman can now call himself an Under Armour All-American and, soon, a proud alumnus of Friendship.

"I think it's amazing," Gray said. "It shows how we play at Friendship. We're ballers. We play football here."

Gray and Ngakoue looked to be on the same recruiting path when they committed to Maryland in June. That has since changed. Ngakoue reopened his recruitment in September. He is still considering the Terrapins but is also interested in West Virginia, South Carolina and Miami.

Gray, on the other hand, has never wavered. He's even more confident in his commitment after Maryland recently announced it will join the Big Ten in 2014.

"I think that's a very good program," the four-star offensive tackle said. "They're going to play in a bigger conference with better competition and a lot of exposure. ... We're going to have great competition on the Big Ten."

For these two players of a program with a well-deserved chip on its shoulder, it has been a struggle to gain respect on the field. When the two spoke to ESPN on Wednesday of their UA Game honor, it was the culmination of a long journey.

"It means a lot coming from nowhere, my freshman year being an unknown," Ngakoue said. "It's been a blessing. I grew up watching the Under Armour Game for four years now. I always said I wanted to be in the Under Armour All-America Game. My dream came true when [the invite] came.

Said Gray: "I was excited. I was like, 'Wow, I got invited to that game?'"

Perhaps future Friendship prospects won't be as surprised when they receive such honors and all-star invites. That's what Abdul-Rahim is shooting for.