While Tristen Clark will be the most recent Reitz High School alumni selected by the Indiana Football Coaches Association to participate in the annual North-South All-Star Football Game, he certainly isn’t the first to represent the Mighty Panthers over the course of the game’s 50-year history.
Clark will join 39 other players, coaches and others who have represented the Blue & Gray in the prestigious event’s half-century of existence, including Reitz Football Hall of Famers Bob Stephenson and Ricky Crider.
“I must say that I had a great experience with the IFCA All-Star game,” according to Crider, who played in 2006’s contest. “It really opened my eyes to the talent in the state of Indiana. The experience allowed me to meet athletes that you hear about throughout the season. I gained some friendships that still last today.”
“It was a nice reward for a great high school season and career,” explained Stephenson, who helped lead the Panthers to a state championship game appearance and played in the 1978 all-star game. “I played tight end in the game but also got to be the kicker. I was named Most Valuable Offensive Lineman.”
Week of preparation gives preview of what playing college football will be like
Players participate in a week-long camp that not only gives them a chance to practice with and get to know their teammates, but also get an idea what playing football at the college level will be like.
“You get a feel for the college life before you actually leave for college,” according to Jordan Summers, who played in the 2014 game. “I went into the week not knowing what to expect since it was my first time around another team. But it’s a great feeling to see how everybody supports each other and has each other’s backs almost instantly.”
Billy Hewig, now the athletic director for Pike Central High School, expressed a similar sentiment.
“Looking back on the whole process, it was a lot like what college was going to be like. Playing for new coaches, a new set of players that were all top-notch and staying in dorms was a great experience for what college ball was going to be.”
Crider wanted to prove that he belonged there.
“The speed and competitive attitudes from every player demanded that you bring your A game to practice. That’s one of the things that I took from the All-Star experience that helped me throughout college. In college, you have to bring your A game every single day.”
Game provides opportunity to play for legends and with future NFL players
Not only did it give the players a preview of what playing at the next level would be like, it also gave them the opportunity to be around others that they normally wouldn’t have been able to.
“Playing in that game was a big deal for me for many reasons,” according to Zach Whicker, who played in 2002’s game. “It gave me an opportunity to play for the legendary Jerry Brewer from Jasper who was our head coach that year and his last game he ever coached after winning a state championship in 4A the previous fall.”
“Playing with all of those guys was a humbling experience,” added Whicker. “I’m practicing against Jeremy VanAlstyne who was a great middle linebacker who went on to play four years at Michigan, I started over James Marten at left guard who went to Boston College on a full ride and was later drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Played against a guy named Anthony Spencer on the North team who played nine years in the NFL and was a pro bowler and the list goes on.”
“I got to work with different coaches that I otherwise never would get to work with,” said Hewig, “like former Reitz assistant Jerry Bland and Mater Dei Head coach Mike Goebel. It was also a cool experience to be on the field with the best in Indiana. I was lucky enough to play with Jay Cutler and four other players that played in the pros.”
In addition to the practices, the players also have the opportunity to visit Riley Children’s Hospital.
“We got to visit Riley hospital, which was an amazing experience,” remembered Stephenson.
Ryan McIntosh, who played in the 2009 game, agreed. “The one thing that sticks out still was going to Riley. Everyone was able to interact with all the children and it was a really cool experience.”
Words of wisdom for Tristen Clark
Several of the former participants offered advice to Tristen Clark, who is currently in Indianapolis preparing for this Friday’s North-South All-Star game.
“Every time you make that jump [from high school to college, college to pro, etc.], you basically had the best of the best playing,” said Stephenson. “Everybody’s faster. Tristen can expect much of the same. Everybody’s good. It will help him prepare for playing at the college level.”
“If I have any advice for Tristen,” offered Whicker, “play hard for Reitz High School and the SIAC. During practice and the game, hit somebody in the mouth for every player on his 2015 Reitz team that got snubbed from this all-star game. Make these guys remember Southern Indiana football.”
“[It] was a great experience for me,” said McIntosh. “I was able to meet a lot of great football players and great people.”
“I’m glad I participated in the All-Star game,” said Crider. “It’s something that I will always cherish and remember.”
Said Stephenson, “it was an honor to represent Reitz and the great tradition it has.”
“I feel very blessed that I got to be a part of the North South game,” said Hewig.
“This game was a blast,” said Summers. “It’s amazing how the game of football can make so many friends and memories.”
Getting the opportunity to show the rest of the state what the Mighty Panthers are all about was very fulfilling for Whicker.
“I take a lot of pride in having started in that game, played very well, played with some great football players, but most importantly, played for Reitz and was able to show these big-name players and coaches from Indy and Fort Wayne that we have some players down south that not only belong but are better.”
Having begun in 1966, Friday night’s contest will be the 50th edition of the all-star game. It will be held at North Central High School in Indianapolis. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. eastern time.