ALTOONA - Nine area athletes are set to play the final high school football game of their careers at the 30th annual Lezzer Lumber All-Star Classic.
The game features some of the best players from Districts 6 and 9. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. today at Mansion Park in Altoona.
Mifflin County coach George Miskinis is South coach; Husky defensive coordinator Al Hepner is on his staff. Clarion coach Larry Wiser is head man for the North.
Representing Mifflin County on the field will be Kyle Kahley, John Michael Maclay, Kyle Bargo and Hayden Snook. Kahley is set to play college ball at Lycoming, while Maclay, Snook and Bargo plan to play at Juniata College.
"Hayden Snook is starting at center, Kyle Kahley is playing linebacker, but will line up in the fullback or H-back on offense," Miskinis said. "John Michael Maclay is playing right corner and the fourth member of the squad, Kyle Bargo, is going to play down lineman, which means he could be at defensive end, he could be at nose guard or he could be at tackle depending on the situation. We're going to bump him around a little bit.
"It's a great way to end their high school careers and get them ready for their college careers. For some, this is it. This is their swan song."
Mount Union has five players on the South roster including Philip Kyle, Dylan Smith (RB/LB), Klayton Heffner (WR), Zach Clemens (OL/DL) and Seth Rogers (OL/DL). Smith and Rogers are off to the Marines and Air Force respectively, while Clemens is headed to Penn State.
"The kids from Mount Union seem to be enjoying it and they are doing a good job. Phil Kyle, we've kind of bumped him around on defense. He's at linebacker, nose guard, and sometimes defensive end. Hopefully, we won't confuse him, but he seems to be having a good time with that." Miskinis said. "Most of them are playing on the defensive side of the ball, so it helps to have their coach (Matt Young) on that side as well. He can encourage them and correct what he sees. It's been a good experience for the kids."
Miskinis likes the staff that's in place for the South with the limited time available to get the kids ready to play.
"We kept it pretty simple. The offense is pretty generic, even though we are running from the pistol set. We are using Williamsburg's offense and (Williamsburg head coach) Bob Hearn is actually calling the offense. His wide receivers coach Terry Lee is working with the wideouts and I'm doing the offensive line," he said. "(Mount Union coach) Matt Young is coaching the defensive backs and we have Gabe Walter from Claysburg-Kimmel coaching the down lineman. It's a pretty well-rounded staff and everybody has a specialty they are working on. We are just trying to get as much in as we can without burning them out.
"We have a roster of 39 and we had 33 at practice the first day. Not seeing everybody, we are trying to get them in a place that fits. We only saw these kids on paper and based upon their coach's recommendation we are trying to slot them on offensive and defensive sides," he continued. "After the first three practices we were kind of unsettled, but after the fourth practice it settled in and went efficiently."
For Miskinis, coaching in the Lezzer Lumber Classic is a joy, despite the all the work and preparation involved getting ready for the game.
"It's fun. It's been three years in a row now for me, but this is just the beginning," Miskinis said. "We are going from the Lezzer Lumber game on Friday night into 7-on-7 at Juniata College on Saturday and a lineman camp after that. It's time to start getting ready for the upcoming season."
With such short turnaround time to get everyone ready and with the rules in play favoring the offense, Miskinis acknowledge most of the offense and defense is of the vanilla variety. One advantage the North over his team is in the size department.
"We did a lot of work on one-on-ones, inside run game, outside run game and 7-on-7 stuff. It's coming along. It's one of those things where you just never know, but after seeing and dealing with the Quad-A schools I think we're going to be morbidly undersized," Miskinis said. "The defense is actually predicated by rule we have to play a 5-2 and on third down we have to play full man coverage. There's no blitzing by the linebackers although they can use line stunts to disrupt the blocking scheme.
"It's helpful because you don't have to try and change anything and basically in an all-star game when you're practicing six times in seven days you really aren't trying to change technique they've been using for five or six years, all you're trying to do is line them up and let them play and be athletic. The kids work well together. There is cohesion. I think they have bought into it. Everybody is playing their role and giving their best effort each time we snap the ball."
The importance of the Lezzer Lumber game isn't just the camaraderie involved or even the game itself. The 12 scholarships handed out each year - six for each team, $500 each - to deserving young athlete's makes this event a special one in Central Pennsylvania.
"The Lezzer has been around 30 years. It's been here a long time and it's lasting," Miskinis said. "People sometimes think, well it's an All-Star game and it's 90 degrees out, I don't want to go, but this is where it's nice to have the support with people coming out and encouraging them. This is a chance to give them a nice send off."