Eventually, the sun will set on one’s days on the gridiron, left only with memories of games won and friendships earned.
So with the time remaining to don the helmet and shoulder pads, players on the North and South rosters are being encouraged to take advantage of every moment – on and off the field.
Work on the gridiron coming naturally, players were given the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone on Thursday. Serving as chaperones and role models, players escorted area youths through the Myrtle Beach Target location, shopping for clothes, toys and other items.
“That was one of the best things I have done in a while,” said Beaufort defensive back and South team member Omar Cummings. “Helping kids, seeing their faces and their smiles as they shopped, it’s one of the best things in the world. It was extremely neat.”
Each year, 88 of the state’s top players are selected to take part in the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives North-South Bowl. In addition to practices, meals and meetings, the group also engaged in recreational activities over the course of the week.
Even back then, it was a very organized, well put together event. And the competition was very good. But even though it worked out well, I didn’t figure it would be what it is today. Largely, I thought something else would come along and push it to the side.
Ernie Neal, former Myrtle Beach football coach who played in the inaugural North-South all-star football game
Certainly, a regimen of two-a-days are keeping both teams “on the hop” this week, players putting their best foot forward in an effort to earn as much playing time as possible. But event organizers have sought to create a bowl-like atmosphere leading up to the contest, scheduling a host of events for each day for players.
Among those activities included Wednesday’s “Fun Night,” in which players took part in competitive bowling games at Captain’s Quarters. The mood is not relegated to spare moments in game and hotel rooms, though, not afraid to challenge each other in 1-on-1 passing drills before practice.
In preparation for the first North-South all-star game in 1947, the chief emphasis of the event was to showcase what the Palmetto State has to offer in terms of prep football talent. In all honesty, one of those who were part of that inaugural edition – Kershaw native and former Myrtle Beach head football coach Ernie Neal – did not believe the game would turn into what it has become.
“Even back then, it was a very organized, well put together event. And the competition was very good,” he said. “But even though it worked out well, I didn’t figure it would be what it is today. Largely, I thought something else would come along and push it to the side.”
Though practices can at times be competitive, Neal said they differ immensely from the ones he experienced in that initial game.
“We didn’t really knock heads much, but we still were rather active. Run, run, run ... and then run some more,” he said. “We did a lot of racing, a lot of sprinting. Honestly, I think my foot speed is one of the reasons I found a spot on the team. I could outrun most everyone on the team.”
(Relationships with rivals) changed a lot. We got to know each other in about two or three days. Learned names, treat you like brothers ... everything. It really has added to the experience.
Ninety Six defensive end and member of the North squad Saquon Garner
His experience also was life altering, Neal earning a scholarship from Furman during North-South week. Such still tends to be the case in the leadup to the game – along with the event itself – as Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium and facilities in its general vicinity teeming with coaches seeking a gem that could contribute to their program.
“I must say the game has helped many individuals, including me,” he said. “Event though I had potential, after coming to the North-South game they were able to see the potential in me. And for many of the kids participating, that could be their reality this week.”
The most prickly portion of the week also tends to be among its first. Spending the past few years as rivals, players have abandoned feuds forged on the gridiron in favor of a common pursuit on Saturday.
And oddly, such could form bonds with potential to last a lifetime.
“(Relationships with rivals) changed a lot. We got to know each other in about two or three days,” said Ninety Six defensive end and member of the North squad Saquon Garner. “Learned names, treat you like brothers ... everything. It really has added to the experience.”