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One more go-round for Cardinal, Cornelsen

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

SALINA --  Former Hays High School running back David Cardinal isn't sure if the Kansas Shrine Bowl should be considered a high school football game.

Since each of the players has finished their prep careers, and with most having already began working out with their new college teams, classifying them for Saturday's game is a tricky business.

One thing Cardinal does know is the game will mean a lot to him, and will give him a final opportunity to play for his high school coach at Hays, Ryan Cornelsen.

"I'm playing for him one last time so I'm going to give him my all," said Cardinal, who will play running back at Pittsburg State University in the fall. "I'm going to give him 110 percent one last game."

The Kansas Shrine Bowl, in its 40th year, is the annual high school all-star game that raises money for the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The game will be played on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Yager Stadium on the Washburn University campus in Topeka.

Cornelsen, who will enter his fifth season leading Hays High this fall, was chosen as the head coach of the Shrine Bowl's West squad this year after serving as an assistant for two seasons.

"It's definitely an honor, and it's a very humbling experience to get the opportunity to use my profession and what I chose to do to help the hospitals and help the Shriners raise money," Cornelsen said. "First, our focus is to make sure our kids understand it's more about the cause and raising money for the Shriner's Hospital than anything else. Then we try to prepare to go win a game. There is no tomorrow -- it's one game. The entire state will be watching."

And for Cardinal and Cornelsen, there is something bittersweet about getting to play as athlete and coach one final time.

When Cardinal faced some off the field issues within his family as a sophomore, it was Cornelsen that took him into his home to live with him throughout the remainder of high school. Cardinal wanted a situation that allowed him to stay in school and out of trouble, and he found that with Cornelsen.

"I knew that if I stayed with coach Cornelsen that was my best bet of being successful," Cardinal said. "When I was home we would watch film there. It brought us that much closer so on the field he has trust in me and I have trust in him knowing that he will make the right call. He knows that if I get the ball in my hand I will do anything to score."

Having Cardinal on the Shrine Bowl roster has made things easier for Cornelsen as well. With only one week to prepare, getting all the players to mesh into one offensive or defensive system isn't easy. The West squad will use Cornelsen's run heavy, off-tackle offense, and having Cardinal around to help fill in the gaps has made a big impact.

"It's kind of like having another assistant coach there," Cornelsen said. "Every time we go through reps he is not only doing his reps, but making sure they are doing theirs correctly."

While this is an all-star game for charity, the players are taking it very serious. The West has beaten the East seven years in a row, and the West players have made it clear they don't want to be the ones to end that streak.

"When we get on the field it's definitely going to be intense out there," Cardinal said. "We are going to put it together one last time and I'm going to run the ball for coach Cornelsen one last game."