The high school football season has long since been over and the NFL season is still some ways away but football fans have the chance to satisfy their hunger for the pigskin tonight at the 39th annual Lions All Star Football Classic at Modesto Junior College.
One time adversaries will have to rely on each other tonight when the North and South teams square off in search of pride and bragging rights. Quarterback Andrew Olson of the SJS Div. V Section champions Hilmar High will start the game under center and will be accompanied by Turlock High’s Bradli Baldali at wide receiver, Leo Barajas at offensive guard and Johnny Padilla on the defensive line. Zach Guiliano of Hilmar and Kyle Martinez and A.J. Derr of Pitman High were also selected to play for the South but opted to sit the game out for various reasons.
“I feel honored to be out here with these guys,” Olson said. “I just want to do my best on game day.”
Head coach Richie Alkire, former coach for Beyer High and current coach for Gregori High, has been impressed with the hard work and talent he’s seen on the practice field. Although this is Alkire’s first time serving as head coach for the All-Star game he is no stranger to the experience as he’s coached two of these games in the past as an assistant.
“They are all solid, well coached players. I knew of these guys, but it’s been neat to see them in practice and on a personal basis and be able to find out that they are as good as they’ve been advertised,” Alkire said. “The team looks really promising. They are much more athletic than the other All-Star teams I’ve coached in the past.”
To prepare for tonight, the South has practiced three times a day since Monday at their training headquarters, located on the campus of California State University, Stanislaus.
“I’ve been working on a little bit of everything so I can be ready for the game,” Baldali said.
“We have to learn a lot more than we would during the regular season,” Padilla said. “We’re facing really good players in practice too, no second teams, so it’s a little different.”
In addition to learning new schemes and packages, the players for the South have had to get used to playing with each other while developing a new level of trust in each other, many of whom were strangers prior to this week. To help with the process, coach Alkire designed specific rooming arrangements to get the team better acquainted with each other.
“It’s not about the statistics or the best athletes, it’s about how well the team gels and I think they are gelling pretty well,” Alkire said.
“Team chemistry is everything,” Barajas said. “Our confidence level is high right now.”
Thirteen of the 28 players on the team will be playing at four-year universities next year, a statistic that has given confidence to not only the players but the coaches as well. To fully utilize his weapons, Alkire has put three separate offensive packages in place with the hopes that an offense tailored around his talent will be enough to defeat the North.
“We have a really talented defense and the offense has come around quickly,” Alkire said. “We should be pretty well balanced.”
The South team is comprised of players from Davis, Beyer, Oakdale, Buhach Colony, Patterson, Riverbank, Atwater, Downey, Central Catholic, Johansen, Enochs, and Los Banos high schools, as well as the local players from Hilmar and Turlock.
The North team is comprised of players from Stagg, St. Mary’s, Sierra, Lincoln, East Union, Kimball, Escalon, Chavez, McNair, West, Sonora, Argonaut, Ripon Christian, Edison, Lodi and Tracy high schools.
This is the first year the All-Star game has been scheduled anywhere other than the University of Pacific, giving the South a rare home field advantage. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.