Washington County was represented in all phases of football Saturday during the Nebraska Shrine Bowl game at the University of Nebraska-Kearney's Ron & Carol Cope Stadium.
Fort Calhoun's Tyler Strauss was on the North squad's first kickoff team, Arlington's Remington Gay notched a tackle on its first defensive drive and Blair's Brady Soukup helped lead the way into the end zone for the game's first score.
Bears coach Bryan Soukup also served as one of the North outfit's assistant coaches.
“It was nice that all three Washington County schools were represented,” he said, while also including Tekamah-Herman's Luke Wakehouse as a player representing Blair's corner of the state. “We were well represented in our area, which was awesome. Four great kids and they all played well this week.”
Wakehouse actually scored the North's touchdown behind Brady Soukup and the rest of the all-star team's first offensive line. The squad wearing red lost to the South team, however, 30-6.
That, fortunately, didn't put a damper on the experience for either the players or coach Soukup.
“Honestly, greatest football experience I've ever had,” Gay said. He played defensive end, notching a few tackles and putting a couple of hits on the South's quarterbacks. “There's not a kid where he's not as good as everyone else. Everyone felt like they were top tier. It was great.”
“It was a great week,” coach Soukup added. “Just to be able to play the game, for one thing, was amazing in itself.”
Coronavirus concerns pushed the game back a month from its usual date.
“Even a couple of weeks ago, and for sure a month ago, I would have never thought we'd be able to play,” the Bears' coach added.
But even with those concerns, the football game was pulled off. There were fans in the stands and both the North and South squads had healthy rosters.
“It was an amazing experience just to be around this level of talent for the whole week,” Soukup elaborated. He also noted the valuable coaching experience and the cause the coaches and players were able to benefit — the Shriners Hospitals for Children.
“The bond you build with 45 dudes when you're trapped in a dorm room together for five days,” Strauss said of his favorite Shrine Bowl week experience. “There's nothing like it.”
“It just gives you another reason to love the game,” Brady Soukup added while commenting on his team's first-quarter touchdown drive. Wakehouse's 2-yard run put the North ahead 6-0.
From there, though, the South scored 30-straight points. Omaha South kicker Alan Mendoza earned offensive player of the game honors after nailing three field goals — including a 51-yarder during the third quarter — and three extra points.
Washington County's contingent, meanwhile, played regularly in all phases. Strauss played defensive back and special teams, breaking up a pass into the end zone just before halftime.
Blair's former offensive lineman, meanwhile, dug in, competed and held his own against several opponents bigger than him.
“It was fun,” Brady Soukup said. “I didn't really take anything too personal with my size.”
In fact, he saw his lack of height against some of the state's largest as an advantage on Saturday.
“In football, low man always wins and I'm the lowest man on the field,” he said with a smile.
Gay also tested himself along the line of scrimmage against several Class A and B lineman he'd never competed against.
“It helped with my confidence a lot,” he said after the game's final whistle. “These are the top kids in the state and I held my own against them, so I know I have good chance in college.”
All three Washington County Shrine Bowl representatives do after earning spots in the all-star game after standout high school careers. Gay signed with Midland University in the spring, while Soukup signed with Concordia University this past winter at the same time Strauss signed with Morningside College.
On Saturday, though, they wore North team red.