West Linn players make friends of foes at Les Schwab Bowl
You could see them everywhere on Saturday.
There were the big boys from Jesuit, the ones who handed the West Linn football team a loss in the 2015 Class 6A state championship game.
There was a talented trio from Central Catholic, players who squared off against the Lions in the 2016 state title contest.
And there were, as always it seems, the powerful players from omnipresent playoff foe Clackamas.
Yes indeed, Saturday's Les Schwab Bowl — a North vs. South matchup of the state's top graduated high school football stars — featured a veritable cornucopia of West Linn's toughest gridiron enemies.
And those were just the Lions' teammates on the North squad.
The South team featured the tough guys from Tigard, who gave the West Linn football team its toughest test of 2016, playoff foe Sprague and more.
But one of the beauties of the Schwab Bowl mirrors one of the beauties of the United States — it's a veritable melting pot of players, bringing together athletes from disparate backgrounds, leagues and skillsets, and forging them into new teams.
Along the way, grudges melted away and new friendships were formed.
"Jared Reed (of Central Catholic) and I were talking about it," said West Linn center Connor Maloney, who will play next year at Southern Oregon University. "There's all these guys. You see them on the other side of the field and you think they're just big scary dudes and mean when we think about us playing them. But once you come to this week, they're all great guys. Everyone's down to earth, funny — they're great guys to hang out with, and it's kind of almost like a wake-up call."
"You never really normally talk to them because you're always playing against them, so it was nice to meet new people," said West Linn wide receiver Jake Meisen, who will play next year at Central Washington University. "There's some people who got me pretty good in the (fall) season, made me not like them, but we came together and played together."
As to the game itself, the South team beat the North 10-7 in a defensive-minded battle played under sweltering temperatures at Hillsboro Stadium. Meisen finished the game with three catches for 39 yards, Lions' teammate Justin Altenhofen (a University of Idaho commit) made six catches for 42 yards, linebacker Mitch Johnson (an Eastern Washington commit) finished with six tackles and defensive end Jake Porter (he'll play at Portland State next year) made three stops.
That, however, was just the icing on the cake of a week that saw players live, practice, eat and play together. In the process, they re-shaped their opinions of each other and of future football foes as well.
"It was fun to play with them this game," Altenhofen said. "There were a few guys that I was trash talking with during the season that, then you meet up again with some of them here and it's fun to become friends and play together."