Scott Vang had yet to even observe his West team on the practice field and already he liked what he saw.
Two hours into the Kansas Shrine Bowl training camp he was convinced it would be a good week.
“An impressive, impressive group of young men,” said Vang, who will coach the West in the 45th edition of the annual high school all-star game, scheduled for July 28 in Pittsburg. “We’ve got guys going into anesthesiology and physics and biology, and just great kids.”
Vang, who guided Goddard to the Class 5A state semifinals last fall, joined his West assistants for individual meetings with the players Friday morning at their Kansas State Polytechnic headquarters before afternoon and evening practice sessions at Kansas Wesleyan’s Graves Family Sports Complex. The team will work out two or three times a day before departing for Pittsburg on Thursday.
“My first impression of these kids, the very first thing I saw was all of them sitting out in the lounge watching somebody play a video game,” Vang said. “There was nobody hiding, but everybody hanging out and getting to know each other.
“That impressed me because that means they’re good people. They want to be around people, they want to do good stuff, and that’s exciting.”
Smith Center defensive end Dalton Kuhn, who helped the Redmen to a 2-1A state championship his senior year, also pointed to the game’s bigger purpose as a fundraiser for the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
“Playing in the Shrine Bowl is something special,” said Kuhn, who will continue his career this fall at Fort Hays State. “It’s more than just a game of football.
“It brings people from all around the state that we might have competed against each other, and now we get the chance to be teammates and play the game of football for the greater cause.”
Plainville lineman Hayden Gillum, who faced Kuhn and Smith Center each year in the Mid-Continent League and also in last season’s 2-1A semifinals, agreed.
“It’s just a total honor to be here, with some of the great players who have played in this,” he said. “I’m excited to get to know the guys.
“It’s an honor to get to represent my school and everybody back home.”
Gillum spent the past two months at Kansas State, where he’ll be a preferred walk-on at defensive tackle. One of his teammates in Manhattan will be fellow walk-on Kirk Coomes of Phillipsburg, another former MCL opponent.
Coomes, a standout running back in high school, will play fullback at K-State and fullback or H-back for the West this week. He said he is looking forward to the experience.
“The coaches seem very nice,” Coomes said. “They have stuff together for us to have fun, and we’re going to have some good practice time so we get to know stuff to come together as a team.
“It’s all for a great cause. The Shriners Hospital is such a good foundation that children have when they’re in need.”
Though Coomes will walk on at K-State, he said academic scholarships already have covered his expenses. He plans to major in biology, pre-med, with minors in music and leadership studies.
A total of five players from the West roster — Coomes, Gillum, Goodland’s Levi Archer, Buhler’s Jhet Burkhart and Hanover’s Carlos Emmanuel — are K-State walk-ons, while five will play at Fort Hays State and four at Butler Community College.
“They wouldn’t be here if they’re not great athletes,” Vang said. “Both sides of the football.
“It’s going to be an exciting crew to work with. That’s part of the fun of this deal, putting all of those pieces together.”
Vang has the added bonus of coaching his son A.J., an offensive lineman bound for Butler, one last time in the game.
“Last time around,” he said. “I coached him in high school and now I get to coach him here.
“That will be a great experience for him and me.”
Vang also will coach Blake Sullivan, his quarterback at Goddard, who will play at Fort Hays State. The other quarterback will be Bishop Carroll’s Braden Howell, a Missouri Western signee.
Both Sullivan and Howell ran a spread offense in high school and Carroll coach Dusty Trail, who led the Golden Eagles to a state title last year, is on the West staff.