Different helmets. Different logos. Different teammates - all with the same goal.
The best recently-graduated high school football players in the state have gone head-to-head in the Kansas Shrine Bowl every year since 1974. And every year, the focus is unchanged.
“It's been more about what they're playing for. The cause and all the patients and families. About how important of an impact they'll play in lives,” said the West team head coach Brian Hill of Garden City.
The Kansas Shriners Hospital for Children has made $2.5 million in charitable funds from the Shrine Bowl throughout the years, all while providing a unique experience for players. The West team has camped in the barracks at St. John's Military School in Salina for a week already, where they've practiced twice a day and taken part in a variety of team bonding activities.
“You're among the best players in the state right now, and all the friendships being made, and it's such a great cause, it's just a great thing to be a part of,” said Conway Springs' Matt Seiwert.
He will be a part of a West team looking for its 8th consecutive victory over the East.
“I know we're doing this for a good cause to help the children out. But we want to win. And so we're here practicing hard every day trying to win,” Wichita Heights' Matt Reed explained.
But in order to win, the West looks to capitalize on one glaring advantage.
“Our speed is ridiculous,” said Manhattan wide receiver Deante Burton, who will be a Kansas State Wildcat in the fall. “Everyone here is really fast. We've got Jordan Hart (McPherson), we just got JaMon Cotton (Hutchinson), and Matt Reed is our quarterback. And so when you put us all in there together, I think we're one of the fastest teams. I don't think anyone will be able to catch us.”
“It's devastating,” added Reed, who will wrestle at OU in the fall. “I thought our team (Heights) was fast. And then I see all of these guys out here. And they can move. Everybody can move. It's going to be great.”
We'll find out just how great the West will be on Saturday at 6:30 pm as the game will be broadcast live on Kansas 22. Until then, though, it's all about football and friendships... and ping pong.
“I'm actually 54-0 playing ping pong. Everyone keeps trying to challenge me and say I'm going down and everything but I haven't seen it yet,” boasts Seiwert, while Reed admits he's developing a plan of attack.
“Matt's undefeated right now. But I'm going to get him. I'm going to get him.”
Beating Seiwert is one of many plans in the works for Reed and his teammates, while beating the East and raising money for the Shriners Hospital is paramount. Then there's the matter of a secret team entrance being choreographed.
“We're working on something to come out to. We don't know what it's going to be yet, but it's going to be exciting when we come out,” said the plotting Reed, moving his fingers along his chin.
We may want to tune in early.