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Former rivals unite in fight for humble cause

SALINA (MCT) — Today, Cole Cruz will strap on his blue-and-gold helmet, the one with the 'H' on the side, for a final time. Soon he will trade it in for a Dodge City Community College helmet, a transition only made possible by what he learned in Hutchinson.
"I know our season didn't end the way we wanted it to, but I know when I put that Salthawk helmet on, I'm representing my town," Cruz said. "That's what it's about. It's not just me out here. It's about everyone that got me here."
Cruz will suit up for the West squad in the 41st annual Kansas Shrine Bowl, an all-star game featuring the best graduated senior football players from across the state. The game begins at 7:05 p.m. at Pittsburg State University.
With only one player chosen from each school, the Shrine Bowl creates a unique scenario. For the West team to win, Cruz, like many others, will have to co-exist with former enemies.
For example, a formation could present itself where Cruz has to create a running lane for former Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I foe Malik Veal, a back from Salina Central. Or Cruz, the center, may be snapping to Class 6A district adversary Greyson Tempel, Garden City's quarterback.
"When we played Garden City, he's one of the main focuses when we tried to stop them. It's nice to have him on our side of the ball this time," Cruz said. "He's extremely humble."
Players are overcoming the rivalries at the Shrine Bowl, and enjoying new friendships.
McPherson left tackle Garrett Larson will be throwing blocks for Buhler's Riley Allen and Mulvane's Michael Mason, running backs from the same division as McPherson in the AVCTL.
"It's a dream. I couldn't be more happy blocking for those guys," Larson said. "It's an honor."
Larson will play for Pittsburg State next season.
Allen is rooming with Larson during their time at the Shrine Bowl. Soon, Allen will be taking handoffs with Mason at Butler Community College, where both have signed to play. And Allen knew Cruz before this week.
"It's still nice to get to know them for a whole week, and get to know them as a teammate instead of an opponent," Allen said.
Cruz was named one of the captains for the West squad.
"He's a leader, and he deserves every bit of it," Allen said. "If you get to know him, right away you'll know he's a leader."
For guys like Cruz and Larson on the offensive line, they will find joy if they can help their former enemies punch across the goal line Saturday night. For this cause, rivals can be friends.
"Playing in the Shrine Bowl, in my opinion, it's all for the kids. It's to win the game for the West ... but it's for these kids that didn't get a chance to play football in their lives," Larson said. "We're playing for them."
Money raised from the Shrine Bowl game goes to the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Patients of the hospitals are treated at no cost. As part of the Shrine Bowl festivities, players spend time with some of those patients during the week.
"You really don't know what you have until you don't have it anymore. It sounds kind of corny, but it's really true," Allen said. "It makes you feel humbled and blessed."
(c)2014 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.)