La Grande graduate Wes Howard is looking forward to the chance to take the football field one more time and maybe draw the attention of some college coaches.
But most of all, the offensive lineman is hoping to enjoy his opportunity to be part of the Oregon East-West Shrine Football Game, which is Saturday night in Baker City.
“It’s definitely an awesome opportunity,” said Howard, who currently is slated to start at right guard for the East. “(Football is) the game I’ve grown up with, the game I love. (I’m excited about) getting one more opportunity to come out with a great group of guys — they are awesome. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to come out here and play as a team.”
The game serves as a fundraiser for the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Wilsonville, which Howard and the rest of the players got a chance to tour last weekend. While they didn’t visit any current patients, Howard said the group has heard stories of several people who were helped by the Shriners — including a former Division I football player, and two of the athletes in this weekend’s Shrine game.
Howard said those stories “really bring you down to earth.”
“Hearing the story (made me realize) how fortunate I am,” he said. “I did tear an ACL (in high school), but it’s nothing compared to what they had to deal with. Everyone on the team pretty much is healthy, (so) it’s humbling to hear stories (about players) overcoming adversity.”
The game has also opened up an opportunity for Howard and the others to team up with players they had seen on the other sideline during high school.
It didn’t take long for bonds to form, either.
“We’ve actually (become) really close. We were basically a family on the second day (of practice this week),” Howard said. “We’ve been able to get down the plays on offense and defense. I wish I was able to play with this group of guys for longer.”
When asked why the players were able to jell so quickly, he added, “We’re here for the same reason. It’s a big group of chill dudes. We all want to win. We all want to support the Shriners.”
And while there are a myriad of reasons for wanting to be in the game, the players know at the end of the day they are playing for something bigger than themselves.
“We realize it’s not just for us — it’s for the kids at the hospital,” Howard said.
Kickoff for the contest is 7 p.m. at Bulldog Memorial Stadium.