BUTTE — Dane Oliver can already anticipate the surge of energy as his players take the field this weekend.
"There will probably be a lot of emotion, but we got to keep the main thing and that's about serving the Shrine Game," he said.
The head coach of the defending Class AA champion Missoula Sentinel Spartans, Oliver will lead the West Team when the 74th Annual Montana East-West Shrine Game kicks off in Billings on Saturday at 7 p.m. They're practicing at Butte High's Naranche Stadium this week before departing.
A mainstay of the Montana summer sports scene, the Shrine Game is both a showcase of the top high school football talent in the state as well as a critical fundraiser for the Shriner's Hospital for Children in Spokane.
Recognizing that playing in the Treasure State's premier all-star game is as much about helping those in need as it is about football takes a player of high character. Oliver is pleased that he has a roster full of them.
"No. 1, just great kids, great people," Oliver said of his Shrine team which includes six Sentinel players. "They get it, they've bought into the team concept. They take care of each other, their manners are unbelievable, their parents have done a tremendous job raising them.
"But then obviously on the football field they're talented, and they pick up schemes and plays. It's fun to coach a group of guys that are really good at football."
For the players, the Shrine Game will serve as a coda to their high school athletic careers before they embark on the next chapters of their lives.
It's also something they've been anticipating since finding their name on the Shrine roster last Christmas.
"I was looking forward to it right when we got that article on Christmas morning," said Dillon product Jace Fitzgerald, who will play safety on Saturday before preparing to join Montana State's football team this fall. "It was special to see, getting to play another football game."
Fitzgerald is joined on the West roster by fellow Beavers Michael Hupp (safety), Cole Truman (receiver) and Jonny Reiser (receiver).
Butte High graduate Jake Olson will play tight end for the West on Saturday before looking ahead to beginning his journey with the University of Montana football team. At 6-foot-8, he'll be the tallest player on either the West or East roster.
Six months after learning he'd made the Shrine roster, the accomplishment was still a high honor to him.
"There's tons of schools, tons of football players all over the state and to be one of those few guys who actually gets selected it's a big honor because that's how you know you're the real deal," Olson said. "You're an all-star in whatever position you're playing. And a lot of guys get picked for not only being great at the game but having amazing character and being a great person overall."
Butte Central product and future Carroll College football player Bryan Holland will suit up as a defensive lineman for the West and is the lone Maroon on the team.
This will be his final football game before he trades maroon for purple, and he's looking to make the most of this week.
"It's straight fun, but we're competitive too," Holland said. "We're going at each other really hard but it's always fun just to compete with each other. It feels like we've been closer friends than just the week here. It feels like we've known each other longer and everyone's just coming together really well."