CHARLESTON -The game may be missing some of the sport's most outstanding perfomers from last fall's high school football season, but that doesn't mean fans won't be treated to an outstanding contest when the North Bears take on the South Cardinals in the annual North-South All-Star Football Game at the University of Charleston's Laidley Field at 7 p.m today.
"It's a great honor (to play in this game)," said North head coach Jodi Mote. "There really isn't any point in discussing the players who are not here. I'd rather talk about the 35 kids that did dedicate their time to be here and give the fans the best game possible."
Electing to forego this year's event are two-time Kennedy Award winner Ryan Switzer from George Washington, Hunt Award recipient Eugene German of Martinsburg and Spring Valley's Elijah Wellman, who was selected by the W.Va. Sports Writers Association as its Huff Award winner.
That doesn't mean, however, that the game won't have its fair share of stars as three-time Class AAA title holder Martinsburg will be represented by quarterback Cookie Clinton, running back Gary Awkard, and fullback Jared Sartin while the South squad includes Trenton Gibbs (QB) and Zach Wamsley (RB) from Class A champion Wahama as well as Bam Spurlock (RB), and Dustin Hatfield (TE) from Class AA champion Wayne.
"There is a lot of talent on both squads," continued Mote, who played in the 1992 contest. "I'm very excited to see these kids show their talents."
Some of which Mote is very familiar with as they were members of his Blue Devil squad or played in the Little Kanawha Conference.
Representing St. Marys will be safety/quarterback Andrew Cosper, fullback/linebacker Derek Barnhart and lineman Allen Pratt. Joining that trio will be seven other athletes that called the LKC home for the past four years -Doddridge County's Daniel Plaugher (WR/CB) and Jeffrey Bonnell (LS), Wirt County's James Ellison (OG/DE), Ritchie County's Sammy Hall (OT/DT), Ben Aylestock (RB/CB) from South Harrison, Wyatt Lucas (OT/DT) from Braxton County and Williamstown's Avery Goff (OT/DT).
Bonnell, who played in last week's Battle Against Cystic Fibrosis Football Classic was a late addition, but couldn't wait to show up at the West Virginia State University training facility.
"I got the call about 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and had to be down here for check in by noon on Sunday," said Bonnell. "But, I was really excited to get the call and I am going to make the most out of my chance to show the rest of the state that we can play good football in the LKC."
That means overcoming a Cardinals' squad that will have an overall size advantage and several offensive standouts, including Buffalo's Levi Jordan, Gibbs, Wamsley, South Charleston's Trevond Reese and Spurlock.
"We will have our work cut out for us," said Mote. "But, I think our players are up for the challenge."
A challenge that has gone in favor of the Cardinals of late as the North's last victory came in 2008.
Prior to the start of tonight's contest, the West Virginia Coaches Association will hold its inaugural 7-on-7 tournament featuring high school teams from across the Mountain State.
The day will begin with pool play and will culminate with tournament play in the afternoon. Entry fee is $150 with the opportunity to purchase lunch, North-South game tickets and T-shirts at a discounted price.
Fans will also get an opportunity to meet and receive autographs from this year's Hall of Fame class which includes Dunbar High School standout Gary Barnette, Stonewall Jackson's Hoppy Shores and Mount Hope's Lonnie Warwick.
Barnette was a five-sport standout for the Bulldogs. After graduation he attended WVU where he was a two-year starter and letterman in football, earning first Team all-Southern Conference honors his junior and senior seasons.
Shores was known throughout the Kanawha Valley for his career in insurance and politics, but he was revered throughout the state as one of the top high school football players of his generation. Playing under the guidance of head coach Russ Parsons, Shores won the Kennedy Award in 1949.
Warwick was one of the most decorated football players to ever come out of the state. A 1960 graduate of Mount Hope, Warwick played 13 seasons in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins.