Teams merge for Classic
Allen Moody | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Saturday's 14th annual South-Central All-Star Football Classic at Firemen's Field will have a definite Highlands County feel to it, as nearly one-quarter of the Central roster is made up of players from Avon Park, Lake Placid and Sebring.
Published: December 3, 2012
Published: December 3, 2012
"This is a tremendous event they are putting on," said Avon Park coach Lee Brown, who is serving as assistant coach on the Central squad. "It gives the players one more chance to finish out their senior years."
The Central team will also consist of players from Bartow, Frostproof, Lake Christian, Lake Wales, Mulberry, Okeechobee and Winter Haven.
"The hardest part is selecting a team," said Okeechobee coach Chris Branham, who is head coach of the Central team. "We used to do it where all the coaches got together and went into a room and you talked about each kid and you kind of hammered things out. This time I got a large list of 58 or 60 names and was told to make it 45.
"Being up in Okeechobee we didn't play anybody through the Polk County area or the Highlands County area. It was tough to try and narrow down the team. I tried to get on the phone and talk to the coaches. You try to get an idea of the numbers you want at each position and narrow it down from there. That part has been the most stressful."
Branham said with the roster selection out of the way, his attention was turned to making sure all of the paper work was filled out, insurance forms were turned in and those type of things.
"It's a lot like starting the football season up again, but it's only for one week," he said.
The Blue Streaks will have the largest contingent among local schools, with Arthur Williams, Jake Bryan, Mark Miranda, Devaris Faulk, Larry Scott and Ezell Gammage on the team.
Gammage said it was great to be playing alongside so many teammates.
"It's nice that you're going to have a couple of your best friends that you're playing with," he said.
Avon Park will be represented by Ryan Dick, Estevenson Louis and Steve Roberts, while the Lake Placid duo of Keplet Charite and Ricky Miller will also be suiting up for the Central team.
"Even as a child growing up, being an All-star is a special thing," Branham said. "You're one of the best of whatever group it may be, whether it's a Little League group or your school. For some of these guys it's the last chance they'll get to showcase and get some game tape against some extremely high competition for colleges."
It will also be the first time that a number of players will be teammates, having the spent the past four years trying to beat other. For Gammage, that means lining up on the same side of the ball as Green Dragons and Red Devils.
"It's going to be pretty good," he said. "We were rivals to begin with and now we have to come together as a team and try to make things happen and show off our talent."
Branham has been on the coaching staff for six previous South-Central All-Star Classics and said it's always great to see players from opposing schools come together.
"When you get to practice it's like the kids have been together their whole lives," he said. "You spend all season trying to beat other and pound each other and there's some trash-talking a little bit on the first day and some feeling each other out — that's teenage boys for you — by the time the week ends there's always some relationships built, especially by position.
"It's the first time they really play one position all week. The camaraderie builds pretty quickly. By the time the week is over they exchange phone numbers and they're texting. They build some friendships that last a very long time."
Brown said he also enjoys meeting new coaches and players, and stresses all season long that football is a game.
"The reality that we always talk about is that some of the guys you compete against will eventually be teammates," Brown said. "Although you go to battle on the field, once you walk off the field understand that guy may eventually be an employee of yours, a co-worker of yours or marry somebody in your family or you marry somebody in his. We try to keep it in perspective."
Gammage said playing on Saturday for the first time will be a good experience to see what it will be like to play in college.
"I want to get three sacks and get in on a lot of tackles," he said.
Branham said he hopes the players have an enjoyable experience and he is looking forward to being a part of it.
"I appreciate the opportunity to do this," he said. "I look forward to being with the kids all week and I hope we have a good crowd Saturday night and give these kids something they'll remember."
Game time is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Firemen's Field.