HIGHWOOD — Between the snaps, drills, and tackles at the 6-Man All-Star practice in Highwood, you’ll see a different side of the players and coaches on the Blue Team than you’re used to seeing during the fall, as they balance all the hard work with a little fun.
For example, Westby-Grenora coach Troy Walters, who is coaching in the game for a fifth straight year, ran players through an impromptu trivia session after practice to determine how much running was in store before calling it a day.
“How many Super Bowls have the Kansas City Chiefs been in?” Walters asked Big Sandy’s Tanner Allderdice.
After polling the rest of his 19 teammates, Allderdice responded. “Two?”
“Ding, ding, ding!” Walters replied.
No running this afternoon. On a hot day, the players were relieved and all were smiling as they headed to the locker room.
“You do a drill, then you do something fun,” Walters said about his philosophy for coaching an all-star team. “It’s hot out. They’re working hard and they’re starting to mingle, they’re going to have lifetime friendships and that’s what it’s all about.”
Sunburst all-star Treyton Pickering agreed.
“We like to make a play or make a tackle and then just jump up and crack a joke to each other,” he said. “We get along and have some fun.”
The fun isn’t limited to the field. Highwood is one of the several small-town communities untouched by cell phone service or a data network. Players on the Blue Team are bunking together in grade-school classrooms, so they can’t help but engage in some forced family bonding.
“They’re just little classrooms,” said Westby-Grenora’s Jeremiah Paine. “Everybody’s sleeping on little tiny mattresses in there, but it’s still fun. We talk a lot and pretty much spend the whole time together with everybody”
Outside of a community iPad, entertainment options are limited.
“There’s a small collection, but not a lot of movies to play there or anything,” said North Star’s Dylan Miller. “We looked, but we didn’t find any that were really good, so we tried to watch Schoolhouse Rock!. We watched the Hungry Little Caterpillar (Tuesday).”
Back on the field, players are getting to know one another’s strengths and tendencies ahead of Saturday night’s 22nd annual game. In some cases, players are picking up plays and schemes faster than they’re learning each other’s names. That’s especially true in the case of Dylan and Devon Miller from North Star, two-thirds of a set of triplets.
“I haven’t found a way to tell them apart with helmets on,” laughed Walters. “I got ‘Big Miller’ and ‘Little Miller.’ These kids are really good, they’re respectful, and you can tell they came from good programs.”
But, ultimately, the goal of the week is to win on Saturday night, something the Blue Team has done for three consecutive years. With the talent level on both sides, coach Walters expects another shootout in Highwood.
“Last year in Custer, the final score was 77-71,” Walters said. “I expect the same thing. We expect a lot of scoring. The big thing is if you can get two stops a half, you’re going to probably win the game.”
Defense is usually a little bit behind the offense since most of these players haven’t worn pads since the fall, but the talent is deep. Paine holds the all-time mark for touchdown passes in 6-Man football and is playing in his first of three all-star games this summer. He will also compete in the Montana East-West Shrine Game and the Can-Am 6-Man all-star game before continuing his football career at Dickinson (N.D.) State.
“The Shrine Game will be pretty much my first-ever 11-man game,” Paine said. “It will be different, that’s for sure. It will be a good start to get back into it for college football.”
Pickering also has a busy summer ahead. The Sunburst graduate and future Montana State Bobcat will compete in the Shrine Game as well as the Knights of Columbus Badlands Bowl.
“This game is just getting my feet back under me since I haven’t played since the fall,” Pickering said. “The rest of the summer is getting ready learning 11-man offense and getting to see the formations and see what I have to do and prepare for 11-man.”
All 40 players on the Blue and Red rosters want to win. But in the end, it’s less about the result and more about the experience.
“I still have kids in the past that come up to me or see me somewhere, and saying, ‘Hey, remember 2012 and that all-star game?’” recalled Walters. “And that’s what it’s all about, the fun and the lifetime memories.”
Saturday’s 22nd annual 6-Man All-Star Game will kick off at 7 p.m. in Highwood. For full rosters, please click here.