All wearing different colors representing their schools, the Red Stick Bowl’s Black Knights broke each practice the same way.
“Family,” they said.
“They jelled real fast,” said Black Knights coach Paul Distefano. “You would think, being an all-star game, the kids would be selfish, but I haven’t seen that.
“It’s been a team-bonding thing, and it seems like we all have a common goal to go out Sunday and play to win.”
After enduring rainy weather throughout the week that forced mid-day practice changes and even forced one indoors, Distefano said the hard part is over. Now his Black Knights and Ken Hilton’s Rattlers can focus squarely on the game, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Olympia Stadium.
Hilton, who was named McKinley’s new coach Friday, admitted he was a bit surprised at the intensity of practices, even though neither team is tackling to avoid injury.
“Practices have been great,” Hilton said. “When you really sit back and really look at it, we have a lot of kids that like to compete and a lot of kids that compete at a high level. We have people on our team that want to make plays, and when they don’t make plays, they get upset. That’s the exciting thing about it.”
Overwhelmed when the week began, Distefano said the players’ superior attitudes and quick chemistry from all parts of the city have allowed him to appreciate the privilege he has to coach the game.
“I knew we’d have a lot of talented kids out there,” Distefano said. “But they’re so coachable and respond to what you tell them. You can tell a lot of them are disciplined and self-motivated.”
Bowl co-director Barrett Murphy echoed both coaches’ sentiments, calling the group of players that will take the field — all nominated by their own coaches — “the best of the best.”
“Thank God for them,” Murphy said. “We didn’t miss a beat. Practices went great and everything, really good. The coaching staffs have been awesome. What else can I say? It’s going to be a great game.”
The Black Knights have been designated as the home team and be on the press box side at Olympia Stadium.
Gates will open at 1 p.m., but Murphy encourages fans to arrive earlier and partipate in the U.S. Army’s Strength in Action Zone, which is travelling to Baton Rouge from Chicago with three semitrailers of fitness equipment.