Saturday will be the high school football equivalent of cats and dogs getting along.
After spending four years learning to dislike their rivals, the state’s top seniors will suit up for one final game alongside those longtime opponents at the LHSCA High School Football All-Star Game.
But instead of personalities clashing behind school loyalties, players are finding new friends in former enemies.
West team wide receiver Arron McKenney of St. James recalls losing to Many in the 2014 playoffs. Many’s coach is Jess Curtis, who will be coaching the West team.
“It’s just fun to reminisce on the past,” McKenney said. “We look past that (playoff game), and we’re just here to have fun as a team — as a family.”
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at the Louisiana Leadership Institute in Baton Rouge, but preparation started Wednesday as coaches try to put together a functioning team in just five practice sessions.
Jesuit coach Mark Songy handles head coaching duties for the East squad, while Many Curtis takes the helm for the West.
Play-calling is made slightly easier as the defense is forced to stay in a base 4-3 formation and must play man-to-man. Defenders are also refrained from blitzing or running stunts.
“It’s a lot of respect there,” Curtis said. “Guys from Kinder are some of our best friends now, and that’s our biggest rival. It’s getting to know people because all you know of them is on film and playing them and now you get to meet the person.”
Practices are being held at Live Oak for the East and at Denham Springs for the West, due to both schools having artificial turf fields.
This will be the first year the game has been in the Baton Rouge area with Shreveport’s Independence Bowl hosting in previous years.
Curtis, who was an assistant coach in the game last year, said he was partial to the game being closer to home in north Louisiana but is excited to get to see a different region of the state and give new people an opportunity to watch.
Only in his second season at Jesuit after taking a 10-year hiatus from coaching, Saturday will be Songy’s first foray into an all-star game.
“This needs to be a relaxed week,” Songy said. “We don’t really need to work on blocking and tackling and the fundamentals because obviously they already now how to do that. That makes practice a little shorter and a little more spirited, and we can work a lot more on team work.”
The bulk of the Baton Rouge-area players will predictably line up on the East side, including those from Zachary, Southern Lab and Lutcher, while players from schools like St. James and Donaldsonville will compete with the West.
Neither coach has decided on a starting lineup yet but said most players are expected to be part of a heavy rotation.
Quarterback duties for the East will be split between St. Paul’s passer Kenny Sears and East Ascensions’ Kyran Irvin.
Irvin said he’s particularly excited about the game taking place in Baton Rouge where his friends and family can come watch his final high school game.
“We kind of came here pretty good,” Irvin said of meshing together with his new teammates. “We have two outside receivers over 6-foot-1 who can make plays in the air and go up and get the ball.
“It’s amazing because you know you can trust these guys.”