Clear plates. Full stomachs. Can’t lose.
Weekly trips through the Pizza Inn buffet line were a winning combination for the Conway offensive line, building chemistry and a sense of camaraderie among its members.
If nothing else, that chemistry is something standouts Gunner Britton and Raiqwon O’Neal have utilized this week in preparation for the 81st Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
“Those trips to Pizza Inn really helped us build quite the bond,” O’Neal said. “We spent a lot of time trying to get to know each other, build a bond. Now, we are pretty much like family.”
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Countless schools salivated over the prospect of getting either Conway offensive lineman on their campus.
Last summer, O’Neal chose Rutgers over more than 30 other suitors. Britton also made up his mind well before the start of football season, verbally committing to Western Kentucky during a visit in July.
With recruiting matters settled, the duo went about their senior year stress-free. And it showed on the gridiron as the Conway offense flourished.
The Tigers averaged 364 yards and almost 34 points per game.
Over the course of this week, Britton and O’Neal embraced the challenge of playing college-level talent. According to both, a certain attribute about practices all week stood out most.
“Man, the speed of everyone was definitely a change,” Britton said. “I mean, everyone (at the Shrine Bowl) is top level talent, you’re playing the best of the best.
“On your average football team, there may be two or three guys that are good or have something making them special. Out here, all 44 guys are special.”
Said O’Neal: “This is almost like the first practice of freshman year. You’re basically taking on college freshman everyday in practice.”
In addition to obligations on the gridiron, players paid a visit to the Shriners Childrens Hospital in Greenville.
“That was probably the best part of the week,” O’Neal said. “I’ve had a yearning to do things like that since I was little. It is something I would love to do again, actually.”
Ultimately, both made the trip expecting to represent Conway — and their teammates — to the best of their ability.
“This whole experience has been life-changing,” Britton said. “I met so many good people, some great guys. I learned this year to enjoy everything.
“My main goal is to show everybody I can play with guys going to the highest level, and that they know where I’m from.”