TURLOCK — One of the most difficult things for fans attending Saturday’s Lions Club All-Star Football Game will be to identify the players’ schools by their helmets.
And that’s because of a really good tradition that has been a part of this game since it began in 1973.
At the South Team camp at Cal State Stanislaus, there are helmets in every possible shade. Most of them have the decals of multiple high schools, and the majority are sporting the distinctive “TD” logo of Downey High, thanks to Knights’ receiver Tristan Best and his coach, Jeremy Plaa.
“My coach gave me three or four slabs of stickers,” said Best, one of several South players who will be headed to Modesto Junior College this fall. “I have 16 stickers from other schools and put two on my helmet. I’m just trading for their stickers.”
The stickers, most of which will end up in the players’ scrapbooks, represent a lot more than window dressing, according to South coach Rob Scheidt of Merced High.
“I don’t know how that started,” Scheidt said. “The coach who first decided to release helmet decals to the kids I’m sure faced some flak. There had to be some traditionalist coaches who wanted to make sure their kids only wore their school’s stickers.
“But that was a great idea. It takes a group of guys who had no identity except to themselves and suddenly they identify with each other by exchanging stickers. That’s one of the beauties of the All-Star Game.”
The South roster lists three quarterbacks: Sean Downs of Turlock, Kendel Johnson of Central Valley and Anthony Brooks of Modesto Christian.
But only Downs and Johnson were taking snaps at Wednesday’s practice, with Brooks getting reps at receiver and defensive back.
“We got word that Anthony wanted to play in the game and he wanted to come here as an athlete,” Scheidt said. “I put him at receiver because I knew the quarterbacks we were going to have, and Anthony gives us a lot of depth there. He’s an unbelievable athlete.”
Modesto Christian, which also placed lineman Dillon Tarvin on the team, is the smallest school represented on the South roster and those two Crusaders are the only athletes from the Trans-Valley League on the squad. Escalon lineman Collin Strasser is playing on the North team.
Players from small schools can face a level of intimidation when they starting practicing with athletes from much larger programs. But Brooks, who logged significant minutes at guard for Modesto Christian’s high-powered basketball team, said he came in ready for the competition.
“I’ve played with elite players so I know how to stay focused and how to work hard,” said Brooks, who will be attending and playing football at Gavilan College in Gilroy this fall. “This is fun and it’s the best-organized thing I’ve ever been involved with in football. It’s great to be around all the good players from the Valley and it’s a privilege to be a part of this.”
The future of summer football
One of the trends of the last decade involves the elite players – those who have committed to Division I colleges – being advised by their college coaches to not participate in all-star games.
Scheidt said he certainly understands the reason for not wanting to expose a scholarship athlete to the threat of injury, but thinks those coaches and players who avoid these games are missing out on a special experience.
“It’s a dilemma,” Scheidt said. “Our sport is under attack. Team camps in the summer are going to go away and there’s already national legislation about to get passed about that. Some sections in our state don’t allow summer camps. I think the next thing that might come under attack is all-star games. I love the sport and I want to protect it, but I am sensitive to the issue. We are talking about the long-term livelihood of our kids, and do they need to be banging around an extra week.
“I do feel the value of this, but on the other hand, these are lifelong friendships you develop, beyond the connections you have in your school. If we value that, we will protect the games like this. It’s going to be a tough battle. Because there are so many things going on, it’s tough to draw people to watch these games. We have to get game alumni involved to make sure this game is passed on to the next generation.”