Monday was All-American day for Cody Kessler, but sometimes these things have a habit of sneaking up on you.
"It all seemed like a dream at the beginning," Kessler said. "I woke up, and not that I forgot about it, but we had never really talked about it in detail. Then I came in here, and I was like, 'Man, this is a pretty big deal.'"
That was in the Centennial library, where a few minutes later Kessler listened to U.S. Army representatives tell a big crowd that he was among 90 high school football players nationwide selected to play in the Jan. 8 All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
Kessler grinned and then traded his No. 7 red-and-gold Golden Hawks jersey for a spiffy new No. 11 U.S. Army All-American Bowl kit.
"It's hard work, and the biggest thing is the support from my teammates and my family," Kessler said. "All of that stuff is paying off. When I was in seventh, eighth grade and people were out doing stuff, I was working out. And I just telling myself it was going to pay off."
He'll play in the All-American Bowl, following in the footsteps of now-NFL stars Jimmy Claussen, Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson, DeSean Jackson, Mark Sanchez, Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow among scores of other NFL players.
"It's just awesome," Kessler said. "Those are the kind of players that I remember watching growing up. Those are definitely guys I'd like to model myself after."
It was appearances by two quarterbacks from SoCal, Sanchez (2005) and Clausen (2007), that sparked Kessler's interest in the game.
"I watch it every year," Kessler said. "Jimmy Clausen was my favorite guy growing up; everyone always has a favorite guy who's in high school. And the other guy was Mark Sanchez at USC. They both played in this game, and I was like, 'I want to follow in their footsteps.'"
Kessler has started that process with what has so far been a phenomenal senior season. He has completed 62-of-81 passes for 1,065 yards, 14 touchdowns and just one interception. He's also ran for two TDs in leading Centennial to a 4-0 start and the No. 10 state ranking in the latest Cal Hi Sports poll. And the rest of the Golden Hawks, populating the library, seemed just as happy for Kessler as their standout quarterback was for himself.
"I think they kind of embraced it this spring with the recruiting and everything that was going on," Centennial coach Bryan Nixon said. "The accolades that he gets, he doesn't forget to thank his teammates. He knows how important his team is."
This is the second straight selection for a Bakersfield player, after Frontier punter Matt Darr, now at Tennessee, appeared in the 2009 game.
But being in the game as a quarterback means many eyes in the Alamodome and from NBC's national television audience will focus on Kessler.
"It's pretty amazing; it's surreal," Nixon said. "... It's his dedication, his hard work, his commitment to being as good as he can possibly be. He's the most accurate quarterback I've ever been around, he works his tail off, and he does everything he can to be that quarterback. It's pretty exciting to have him on our side."
Another bit of praise? For Kessler, goals are set high and, much more often than not, knocked down. A year ago, he set three personal goals: Be selected for Elite 11 quarterbacks camp (check), verbally commit to a big-time college (USC -- check) and pull on the U.S. Army jersey as an All-American.
"I've done all three now, so today is such a great day," Kessler said.