Players come together for Shrine Bowl
Published on -7/27/2012, 10:15 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Plainville's Andrew Casey and Kensington-Thunder Ridge's Joel Struckhoff established themselves as two of the area's top athletes during the last four years. They earned all-state honors in at least two sports and helped their schools collect a state title in track and football, respectively. But the duo had rarely talked before this week at the Kansas Shrine Bowl.
However, the duo were roommates this week and will play on the same side of the ball in the contest Saturday night at Emporia State University's Welch Stadium. Game time is 7 p.m. Plus, Casey and Struckhoff will see each other plenty this fall. Both have signed with Dodge City Community College.
"We had a couple track meets and we played basketball together, but, other than that, we really didn't talk," Casey said. "But this week, we have bonded a lot."
"We talk a lot about our defense and stuff. We got to know each other really well through this week. It's going to be fun (at Dodge)," Casey added.
Casey and Struckhoff are several area players that will play either linebacker or defensive back Saturday.
"We played each other a couple of times in basketball, but other than that, we didn't really play many sports versus each other," Struckhoff said. "Maybe ran a few times in track, but other than that, we really haven't talked much. I am not really for sure how they matched us up. I think they went by area maybe, and that's why they matched us up. We leave Wednesday for Dodge and I think we get right into it with classes and everything right away."
Casey is expected to start at middle linebacker, while Struckhoff, La Crosse's Tayler Stull and Smith Center's Truitt Kuhlmann have played defensive back. Kuhlmann moved to defensive back later in the week. The only area player on offense is Ellis' Jared Herl, who is expected to play at tight end, but could see time in a couple of roles.
"It's definitely pretty cool for all four of us being out there," Casey said. "We just got to work hard and play smart and hopefully we will make some plays on defense."
Herl and Kuhlmann have signed with Fort Hays State University. Kuhlmann rushed for 2,009 yards in 2011, while Herl suffered injuries each of the last two seasons.
Still, Herl had 272 total tackles in his Railroader career, including three interceptions, six forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. He caught 55 passes for 950 yards and 11 scores, too. The West enters Saturday on a six-game winning streak, longest in Shrine Bowl history.
"They have been doing really well at their spots and they are going to definitely help our team out," Casey said.
Struckhoff is one of only four eight-man players who earned a Shrine Bowl invite.
"The first few days were a little different for me, getting used to the 11-man scheme," Struckhoff said. "After that, it flowed pretty easily. ... It's a really huge honor because there aren't very many picked from eight man."
As well, Struckhoff -- an all-around player on Thunder Ridge's 13-0 squad that won the Eight-Man, Division II championship -- will be the West's kicker.
"We just had a little deal and they picked a few of us out," Struckhoff said. "I kicked a few touchbacks and that's just how that happened."
Struckhoff is well-known for setting Kansas eight-man records for career rushing yards and career touchdowns, but he also made 111 tackles and picked off two passes on defense and had 38 touchbacks a the Longhorns' kicker. He is likely to play defensive back at Dodge City this fall, too.
"We are pretty stacked at running back, so playing corner was my option," he said.
While both players would like to keep the West's streak going, the roommates have also realized the true meaning of the Shrine Bowl -- to benefit the Shriners' Hospital.
"This game is for the kids," Casey said. "We are not out here to just demolish everybody. We are here to have fun, we are here to win the game."