For some it's the beginning of the next phase of their football careers, but for all it's the end of their high school days together.
A group of 88 of the top graduating players will play in the 12th annual Winnipeg High School Football League Senior Bowl on Saturday at noon at the East Side Eagles Field (723 London St.). Divided into two teams, which will be coached by Rich Urbanovich and Cory Waldbauer, the sides will do battle for the Gerry James Trophy.
"I don't know if I'll play football again (after this game), I hope I do, I'd like to play club football two or three years from now but school is going to be pretty busy after this," said Brett Hilderman, 17, an offensive lineman who is graduating from the Garden City Fighting Gophers. Hilderman, with an average of 92 per cent, received advanced early admission into the University of Manitoba's faculty of engineering where he will pursue a career as an aerospace engineer. "I'm really looking forward to this game, I want to go all out, four days left of football, go for it, hit some kids and have some fun"
Hilderman may be proof you can be a rocket scientist and play football, if he has time to play at the senior club level.
Linebacker DJ Lalama, a St. Paul's Crusaders player who was one of the most highly recruited players out of Manitoba this season, will play for the University of Western Ontario Mustangs this fall. He and his 90 per cent average were accepted into Western's unique kinesiology and sports management dual-degree program.
"Western had the academic program I wanted and from the football standpoint, it's such a great program and great tradition there, I feel lucky to be a part of it," said Lalama, 17, who also played for the St. Paul's hockey team.
"For me, this game is kind of a swan song in a sense. It's the last time playing in Winnipeg for me. Just the fact I can go out there with the guys one more time, we've been together since we started playing football. There'll be a bit of a competitive edge but, when it comes down to it, it's our boys that we've been playing with."
Rick Henkewich, Senior Bowl chairman, said the game is a special opportunity for the players.
"This might be the last time some of these kids play. They've been stars in their own schools and this is a chance for them to end their high school careers the way they started it, all together," said Henkewich, also an assistant coach with the Sisler Spartans. "We think that's really important."
The teams are named Team Bryan and Team Kinley after WHSFL Hall of Fame coaches Graham Kinley and Frank Bryan who coached in the 1960s and 1970s.
"The WHSFL is all about tradition and pride and I'm looking forward to seeing that out there on the field on Saturday," said Paul Normandeau, WHSFL commissioner.