Another day another game or is it? The 91st Shrine game has concluded, put the stats in the books, but this is more than a game. It’s a life changer. Players participate hoping to raise their stock in the NFL Draft; along the way they raise the spirits of the kids and families supported by the Shriners who fund the most amazing hospital in the land St. Jude.
Their mission statement should read we are everything an insurance company refuses to be.
I came to cover a game instead I leave amazed by the human spirit, one of loving and giving, to support the cause of making the difference in a young persons’ life. A football team has a common goal of winning the game; offensively it’s about scoring a touchdown. The coach plans, call plays designed to go left, right, up the middle running and sometimes throwing, all in a determined effort to get in the end zone, meanwhile the defense creates obstacles to prevent them. That drive and determination shown on the grid iron is nothing compared to the drive and determination of the Shriners of America to impact the lives of the less fortunate. Kids born with deformities, families at wits end dealing with the bureaucratic nature of insurance companies land in the loving arms of strangers called Shriners. Today I chose to call them earth angels. All of this is supported by a football game that showcases some of the most gifted athletes in the world while supporting kids that can’t walk or go home and do the most simple and basic things, what a contrast in life but perfectly correlated to create a win, win.
I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the games most gifted players Javon Hargrave a 6’2, 315 lbs. Defensive Tackle that runs as fast as some high school running backs, touted as perhaps the top draft pick playing in this year’s Shrine Game. Some football analyst is saying he is “the best prospect coming out of an in the last 10 years. He is an All American and the reigning back to back MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, yet, by NFL standards, somewhat of an underdog, playing at a small college in Orangeburg South Carolina, South Carolina State University. The kids I am speaking of may never take a snap, but they are nobody’s underdog.
This gentle giant played a fantastic game and was mentioned as the top practice player of the week. His effort may be rewarded with a late addition to the Senior Bowl.
The game itself is obviously the highlight of the week, but to me, it was the trip to the hospitals and community support structured by the Shriners in their mission to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate or more gifted. To face the challenges that these kids face and do it with their grit, determination, and spirit “I think they are the gifted ones”.
The West Squad dominated the East Squad 29-9 behind the strong play of Oregon Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. The first half was all his as he came off the bench in relief of Western Kentucky’s Doughty after he threw two early interceptions in the first quarter. Adams threw for 191 yards and 3 touchdowns. The East started the game hot on a big play 99 yards pick 6 interception return by Brian Poole to make the score 9 – 0. The momentum was definitely in their favor something had to be done, they needed a spark, it looked like the game may be getting away, in came Adams the fire plug who hit Kivon Cartwright of Colorado State for an 11-yard touchdown early in the second quarter making the score 9-7.
The next drive for the East stalled resulting in a punt that backed the west up near their end zone. Adams doing his Doug Flutie/Drew Breeze depending upon your age, imitation, danced around in the end zone to elude pressure before unloading a 93 yard bomb down the middle of the field to Danny Anthrop (Purdue), who seemed to have given up on the play, then suddenly realizing Adams was still alive, he darted toward the end zone, that move seemed to have lulled the safety to sleep, as he focused on the other receiver allowing Anthrop to rotate and take off towards the end zone, from there he had too much gas to be caught. Brian Poole (24) DC, Florida made a desperate attempt diving at his ankles as he tipped into the end zone for the score.
Mid way of the 2nd quarter Adams followed up with a 10 yard TD pass to Geronimo Allison (Illinois) to put the west in front 20-9 from there, it was all over, that made his third touchdown pass in less than half of playing time. The East team played with pride getting into scoring position just before the half but Michael Caputo spoiled the party by picking off his teammate Joel Stave like they were in practice and returned it 66 yards to set up a field goal to give the West the lead 23-9 as the boys say “that was all she wrote”.
The second half started optimistically for the East intercepting a Joel Stave pass but they couldn’t get a score out of it, in fact, the two teams went back and forth with neither of them mounting no more than a three-n- out resulting in punts. Finally, Geronimo Allison of the Illinois scored on a 10 Yards pass to bring the score to 29-9.
The East squad dug deep to mount one more effort to score but fell short as Michael Caputo grabbed his second interception of the day thrashing their hopes.
The fourth quarter play was for Brandon Doughty and Nate Sudfeld as Adams cooled off neither team could mount another score as the game ended 29-9. Adams was named player of the game and Michael Caputo won defensive MVP
The weeks top performers or the Guys who made some money
- Javon Hargrave – DT, South Carolina State – Best practice player of the week
- Vernon Adams- QB, Oregon- Really undersized but was the best QB on the field, a lot of questions but may be worth the risk. One scout may have said it best he deserves a shot.
- Eric Galko – One of the best on the field
- Daniel Lasco- RB, California- 6 carries for 62 yards “He just keeps showing up” TV personality Charles Davis.
- Geronimo Ellison- Two touchdown receptions from different quarterbacks, solid route runner definitely improved his chances
Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State (6-2, 315)
Entering the week, I considered Hargrave the top prospect on the East-West Shrine Game roster. And after a week of practice in St. Petersburg, my opinion hasn’t changed. His performance during drills matched his impressive tape, launching himself out of his stance with terrific initial quickness to break up the rhythm of blockers.
Hargrave moves very well for a 315-pounder due to his flexible lower body to easily change directions in space and play low to the ground to get underneath blocks. He has a thick lower body with wide hips and meaty thighs, showing the ability to anchor at the point of attack and occupy multiple blockers. Although he was already my top player entering the week, Hargrave was still able to help himself with his positive play against prospects from the FBS level.