One last shot at prep football glory. That’s what seven local players get this Saturday at the 47th Annual Central California Lions All-Star Football Classic, where the area’s top football talent from this past season is divided between North and South and pitted against each other.
Merced High head coach Rob Scheidt will lead the South team into battle this year with a roster that boasts players from both Turlock and Pitman High. On offense, Bulldogs Sean Downs and Jevan Hogan will help from their respective quarterback and running back positions, while Pride players Justin Van Fleet and Aaron Lusher will contribute from the tight end and offensive line positions, respectively.
Pitman’s Jorge Pena and Eric Bejeran will help to anchor the defense line with teammate Logan Wolfley securing the secondary. Van Fleet and Hogan are also expected to contribute on defense.
“It’s a great group of guys; they really buy into what we’re doing. I mean they’re All Stars, so they’re easy to coach and everything that you heard about them is true,” Scheidt said. “Initially you think there might be some animosity, but these guys just love football.”
Downs will split time with Central Valley High quarterback Kendall Johnson, though the division of labor is as of yet up in the air.
“I basically made it a competition,” Scheidt said. “Most likely it’s going to be whoever has the hot hand is going to go.”
But while the quarterback position is ripe with talent, the backfield is expected to be truly explosive as the blazing speed of Hogan will be matched with the talent of Central Valley’s Jaquan Gardner, who rushed for 2,467 yards and 27 touchdowns last season and was named the USA Today/Asics Ultimate Athlete of the Year and won the Western Athletic Conference MVP award.
“We like them both. Obviously Jaquan comes in with his body of work that’s the best in section history, so we’re excited to see what he’s going to do,” Scheidt said. “And Jevan’s done a great job, not only in learning the offense but also playing D. They make a good one-two punch.”
Van Fleet and Bejeran are later additions to the South’s defense as they were called upon to fill voids created by injury and circumstance. But one circumstantial absence has not been answered with replacement.
Hilmar High’s Joseph Bello remains on the All-Star roster despite having suffered a paralyzing injury earlier in the year.
“I’m hoping he’s going to be at the game,” Scheidt said. “He’s an All Star, and that’s the bottom line. He’s an All Star and he deserves to be out here and obviously he can’t because of what happened to him.”
Other players who were initially selected but dropped out include Turlock’s Patrick Green and Hilmar’s Tyler Robinson.
Saturday’s game will kick off at 7 p.m. and will be played at a new venue, Wayne Schneider Stadium in Tracy.
The North has historically had the upper hand in the head-to-head contest, winning eight of the last 10 games, but the South managed to win last year and Scheidt and his boys aim to repeat that success.
“There’s no way that we can live up to the potential of who we are as a team until we’re challenged by our opponent,” Scheidt said. “We want to go out and see what they got and play the distance of the game and see what happens. I think our guys are prepared for that so it should be a lot of fun.”