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Small schools, big talent

Brian Shepard
Sports Writer
Bear River's Zach Winter moves in for a tackle Nov. 11 against Foothill at J. David Ramsey Stadium. Bear River won, 42-13.
John Hart | The Union

For years, the Optimist All-Star Football Classic has offered prep players with tremendous performances throughout the season the opportunity to showcase their abilities one more time.

And now, with the birth of the All-City Small School Classic, there is even greater opportunity to be had from around the leagues.

The inaugural All-City Small School Classic will follow the 56th Optimist All-Star Classic with kickoff at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Del Oro High School.

Players from 13 schools represent both teams, including Bear River, Colfax, Placer and others for the North, while Center, Union Mine and Bradshaw Christian are just a few to be named from the South. Bear River has six players participating in the game, the most from of any high school. Bruins selections include quarterback Dillon Smith, wide receiver Tevyn Kimble, offensive and defensive lineman Jerry Fuhrman, running back and linebacker Cody Heard and linebackers Zach Winter and Jake Savoie.

“We have six players. Placer has five,” said co-head coach Scott Savoie. “We’re both wing-T schools — formation and play-wise. We have guys from all types of offense. It’s that core cluster that we need to direct other kids. Basically, keep it simple. Good athletes make things happen.”

The All-City Small School Classic is a vision brought to life by Mike Finnerty, host of and reporter on the popular “SureWest Sports Show” and past Optimist All-Star football games. The idea behind it is to give smaller Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV, V and VI schools more representation on an all-star stage. These schools are still eligible to send athletes to the Optimist game, but this new game ensures that fewer players are overlooked.

Bear River’s Smith will likely look to his No. 1 target during the season, Kimble, to make plays and put points on the scoreboard. The quarterback-receiver duo hooked up for 919 yards and seven touchdowns this season, including a pair of scores against Division IV state champion Central Catholic in the first round of the playoffs. Smith finished the season with 11 touchdown tosses and 1,484 yards passing.

“Having all these new guys is pretty cool,” said Smith. “We have really good receivers from Highlands who are really fast and run good routes. Tevyn’s my man though. Having a big, big O-line is nice too. I won’t have to worry as much. We’re well prepared for what they’ve got.”

The North’s roster is built rock solid in the backfield with Placer backs Issac Brahce and Mike Robinson. Brahce and Robinson each averaged more than 5 yards per carry for a combined 1,864 total yards and 25 touchdowns.

Defensively, the North is in for a battle, as it’ll be trying to contain the South’s running attack led by Center’s D’Juan Bellaire, who racked up 2,214 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground, averaging 170.3 yards per game. Alongside linebackers Heard and Savoie, who tallied a combined 17 sacks for the Bruins, will be Winter, who wrapped up a team-leading 95 tackles.

The South also features running backs Sean Tow from Union Mine and Quinton Kirk of Capital Christian. Tow and Quirk rushed for 1,239 yards and 1,783 yards respectively and combined for 39 rushing touchdowns.

The high school football season has been over for a lot of teams for several weeks, and with kids preparing for winter break with their class finals, it may make getting back into the swing of things a bit difficult. Lots of times in games like this, the defense is ahead of the offense, and it takes time for the offense to develop a rhythm, added Savoie.

“We have 35 kids on the roster. Everyone is going to play,” Savoie said. “Most of them are in finals. We’ll get four or five days of practice in this week. These kids know how to play. It’s just integrating a scheme offensively, defensively, special teams and looking at what you have and how to make it fit.”

On the sideline with Savoie will be Bear River’s other head coach Terry Logue and junior varsity head coach Chris Bean. When setting up the event, Finnerty called Bear River and asked if they would step up to coach the North squad, and they accepted the invitation. Both Logue and Savoie have experience with all-star games, and this is something they enjoy, said Savoie.

“We need to develop some semblance of a team,” Savoie said. “Even though it’s just one week of practice, it’s important to have them there. The kids are really meshing. We want the kids to have a good experience and obviously want them to play well and win.

“It was a pretty cool thing to be in the Optimist game. For years, we had a good showing, but the last couple we haven’t. Divisions IV, V, VI and far in between, there are good football players out there.”

Tickets cost $10 with kids 8 years old and younger admitted for free. Fans who bring canned goods to donate will receive a $1 ticket discount. Half of the proceeds will benefit the Placer Food Bank, and the other half will go toward scholarships for student-athletes at small schools.

To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call (530) 477-4234 or email bshepard@theunion.com

To read about the 56th Optimist Football All-Star Classic that will take place at noon at DeL Oro High School click here


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