Mustangs, Packers to unite in Shrine Bowl all-star football game
Elijah Charles doesn't know who's playing in the Shrine Bowl all-star football game yet, nor does he even want to know, it adds to the excitement for him.
Charles does know he'll be playing alongside former West Fargo Sheyenne teammate Koby Pearson-Bortle. Don't tell Charles, but he'll also be playing alongside former rival West Fargo's Alex Sell and Andy Gravdahl in the North Dakota Shrine Bowl 11-man all-star game at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 14, at Fargo Shanley's Sid Cichy Stadium.
Charles also doesn't know what position he's playing. The one thing he knows is he feels honored to be picked for the game alongside Pearson-Bortle.
"We got to be pretty tight during the football season," Charles said. "Knowing he's going to be playing with me is going to give me a little confidence booster with someone who knows my talents and abilities."
Charles only started one year of varsity for the Mustangs, who lost as the East Region No. 2 seed in the Class 3A quarterfinals to Minot. Although he received offers, Charles won't be playing college football but will instead focus on getting a biotechnology degree at North Dakota State. Many in his family are in the medical field, Charles said, so he wants to focus on his career in college. He thought he would never get another chance to put pads on again.
"To play in the Shrine Bowl, it's pretty amazing," Charles said. "It feels amazing to put the pads on one last time."
He said he felt great knowing not only his own coaches but others saw talent in him enough to be picked for the all-star game. He said he hopes to make the most of one more game of football and wants to put in even more effort than he did during the season.
"I'm going to play each play like it's my last, something I should've been doing during the season," Charles said. "Now I know that it's really sunk in, I'll give it 110 percent each play."
Charles has been playing against some of his Shrine Bowl teammates as rivals before. He said he's looking forward to getting to know them more personally.
"I feel like I'm going to have to have more of an attitude or swagger to my game knowing it'll be playing the best of the best," Charles said. "It'll take the East giving a little more heart than the West is willing to give, more effort and heart each play."
Charles will at least have a familiar face there with Pearson-Bortle, who's also excited to be recognized for this talents. Since his junior year when he heard about other players in all-star games, Pearson-Bortle wanted to play in one too.
"You're recognized as a top player in the state which is a huge honor," Pearson-Bortle said. "It just showed my hard work paid off throughout high school. I worked my butt off."
Pearson-Bortle, a Bemidji State commit, will be playing alongside players like Gravdahl who he's known of for awhile and alongside players he's never heard of from other classifications in North Dakota. He said while it will be strange playing with some rival Packers, he said the East will have to learn to gel and communicate if they want to win. He said he's happy to share the moment with Charles.
"Honestly, it would kind of suck if I were just going by myself," Pearson-Bortle said with a laugh. "It's a warm up getting back into things. It'll show where my skills are at right now."
Gravdahl and Sell have experience playing in an all-star game already. They played for North Dakota in a 55-7 loss to Montana in the annual Badlands Bowl in June in Dickinson. Gravdahl said everyone went into practices as rivals but then he felt his nerves go away as he made friends. But he said he's fully aware of how good the West can be having played with some of their players in the Badlands Bowl.
"There's so much more speed and strength because it's the best," Gravdahl said. "When I first started at the Badlands Bowl, it was immediately faster. You realize that you can't take a rep off otherwise you look like a complete idiot compared to all the other stars on the team."
Gravdahl said he was focused on winning a state title all throughout the season, which the Packers eventually did, but then he realized he might be picked for all-star games and thought it could be fun. He said he feels he's walking in the footsteps of past players and feels honored knowing the work they put in to get picked before him.
He's also realizing it's also a good warmup for his collegiate career going to Concordia College. Gravdahl said the all-star players together are like playing at a whole new level so the East can't take its opponent lightly.
"You just have to go all out and not take a play off," Gravdahl said. "The West is fast and strong. You never know what can happen. We can pull this off, but we have to try as hard as we can."