All-American Bowl was culmination of hard work for Bynum
Wilsonville High School student Draco Bynum has been playing the game of football for a long time. Most of his life, actually. He began playing the sport in the third grade under the tutelage of his father, a new coach at the time. While Draco enjoyed himself, it was not something his parents thought he would take to.
"At the end of his third grade season, I was an assistant coach, that was also my first time coaching," Draco's father Rob Bynum said. "We both learned a lot of what to do and not to do that year. Mom had some good advice and told me not to talk about football for at least six months, and I did my best to do that. He really was not interested in football after that first year."
But Draco went back to it. He continued to play and work hard, and as the time went on, more and more people took notice. The impressions he made on people were eventually heard by his parents, who did their best not to let the praise go to his head. It really started coming about around his sophomore year.
"We never thought about it 'til he was in high school, his sophomore year maybe," Draco's mother Sue Bynum said. "There were a couple comments that surprised me. We never thought that Draco was going to be big time, but there were a couple coaches that made the comment, 'Draco is going to be big time.' What does that mean? I didn't ever think about it. But when you hear it again, you know that people are noticing your kid in a certain way."
These athletic accolades, as well as his hard work in the academic arena, led to several offers from colleges to play football for them. Draco ultimately ended up going with University of Washington, but the notice did not end there. Draco was selected to participate in the Army All-American Bowl alongside some of the best high school prospects in the country.
Flying down on December 31, Bynum left the airport and went to work. Practices and different activities kept Bynum occupied during the week leading up to the big game. While they did get some time for fun, to hear Draco say it, it was mostly business.
"I got to see the Alamo, it was nice to walk around and experience a new city," Draco said. "We went to Six Flags, that was pretty cool. Other than (those), our days were pretty jam-packed. With football, we had a bunch of Adidas functions we went to, some stuff with Zenith, there were little obligations that we had. Stuff we had to be there for. There weren't a ton of opportunities to go out and about."
During the week, he practiced with his Western teammates, and learned to gel with the new system that was put in place. It was a time of adjustment for Draco, as he practice with people of similar skill and athletic ability as him. It was also a time of nerves, and overcoming them.
"It was kind of a shock to my system at first because these guys are good," Draco said. "Once we did some one on ones, and I got my feet under me a little more, won a couple reps, I got more confident. It was like, I'm here for a reason, I'm fine."
Throughout the week, Draco met up with other players from Oregon, other University of Washington commits, and other athletes he had spent a large chunk of time reading up about.
"It was cool to get to meet some of the guys because I've read about all this stuff," Draco said. I've read about some of the other guys, like Amon-Ra St. Brown, and obviously the other Oregon kids. It was cool to see them again. It was cool because I've read so much about all these guys and to actually see them play in person. Some of these guys were legit. All of these guys were legit."
Game day arrived at the end of the week, and with it, a new bundle of nerves for Draco. But as he went through the warm ups, and realized that it was the same game he had been playing his whole life. His parents were experiencing their own bundle of nerves.
"I was worried that he would be nervous, and how would he react to that," Sue said. "I was really happy because it seemed to me that Draco really enjoyed the experience. He was really relaxed and was having a great time."
"I was really nervous for him," Rob said. "Big stage, high level of competition, and just wanted him to have a positive experience from it and hoping that he wouldn't just freeze and forget who he is and how he can play."
Draco did well. He recorded a few tackles, held down his end of the defensive line against the best the East had to offer, and generally relished the experience. The other thing Draco did that very few other high school athletes get to do is go out on a victory.
"Was it a competitive satisfaction? Absolutely," Draco said about the West's 17-16 win. "I'm fiercely competitive and I hate losing. Just going to that game, even if we didn't win, going to the game was a fantastic experience. Winning is very important to me, and it makes it that much better being able to go out on a win, and especially that being my last high school game. My last game against other high schoolers, I get to go out on a win."
After the game, a cool thing happened. Draco had a younger football player come up to him and ask him for advice, and that was one of the things that Wilsonville's representative remembers most fondly.
"After the game, when there were a bunch of little kids, and everyone was coming onto the field to meet the players," Draco said. "I had a little kid come up to me, and he asked me, he said he was a freshman in high school, and he asked me what he could do to be better at defensive end. That was the coolest thing about that game for me."
"I also told him to listen to his parents and coaches because they know what they're talking about, believe it or not," Draco added.
Indeed they did. His coaches and parents that pushed him to do his best in football, in school, and in life have pushed their protégé to the highest point of high school football. Draco ends his career on a win, and will be moving on to the next level, where the same drive that his mentors instilled in him will be put to the test again.