SALINA — One of Hayden Gillum’s favorite aspects of the Shrine Bowl has been getting the chance to join forces with some of the top talent in the state, forming a “super team,” as he calls it.
“I love just getting to know these guys, all these guys you read about in the paper,” the Plainville product said. “We’re out here playing with them and it’s some of the best players in the state. It’s fun to get the opportunity to do that.”
And in some cases, Gillum will be teammates with a few of the West standouts for much longer than just this week.
The West team has five future Kansas State players on the squad, including area players Gillum, Phillipsburg’s Kirk Coomes and Goodland’s Levi Archer.
“We’ve been together since the beginning of June,” Coomes said during practice Tuesday at Kansas Wesleyan as the West gears up to face the East in the Shrine Bowl at 7 p.m. Saturday in Pittsburg. “Being able to play with them and actually getting to football instead of conditioning is pretty nice.”
Gillum, listed at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, will play left guard for the West and is headed to K-State as a defensive tackle.
“Ultimately, that’s just been my dream, K-State — staying in-state, having fifty-five thousand fans and just the family aspect,” Gillum said. “It’s one of the top programs. Once that door opened for me, I knew that’s where I wanted to go.”
Coomes rushed for 1,188 yards with 19 touchdowns in his senior season with Phillipsburg while notching 50 tackles. He received heavy interest from Cornell and said it was a toss up between K-State and Fort Hays State before deciding on the Wildcats.
“They gave me that preferred walk-on offer and I felt in my heart that I just really couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Coomes said. “I have all my schooling paid for with academic scholarships and I’d always wanted to play Division I football so that’s where I went.”
His position at Kansas State will be fullback/H-back.
“I feel really comfortable there,” said Coomes, who will play both inside linebacker and H-back/tight end in the Shrine Bowl. “I have the right body weight (210 pounds) and height (6-foot) for it. I’ve just got to improve on my lead blocking and physicality.”
Gillum, also a preferred walk-on, said the Wildcats’ track record for walk-on success stories was a factor in his decision.
“You look out on the field and they got walk-ons out there who are on scholarship now,” Gillum said. “Or you look at their Hall of Fame wall — Jordy Nelson, he’s up there. He was a walk-on.”
Archer, who play safety for the West, signed a gray shirt offer from the Wildcats after a standout senior season at Goodland. He finished with 1,630 passing yards and 15 touchdowns while 706 rushing yards and 11 scores.
Other K-Staters on the West are Buhler’s Jhet Burkhart and Hanover’s Carlos Emmanuel.
The West will be looking for its second straight Shrine Bowl win after pulling out a 22-21 victory last year.
“All the guys are here because their talent got them here,” Gillum said. “They’ve got something special. When we’re all out here it’s going to be a fight, because that’s how everyone got here in the first place.
“Everybody here has the same drive to want to win,” Coomes added. “It even shows while we’re hanging out at the dorms here. We play some ping pong or some pool and people just hate losing, and it transfers over to the football field. From the first practice people were getting after it and trying to show the coaches what they can do and trying to earn a spot.”