Iowa Shrine Bowl meaning not lost on players, coaches

All-star game benefits charity and gives some players a chance at one more game

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CEDAR FALLS — While the next steps in life are different, all players in the 2016 Shrine Bowl recognize the meaning behind the game.

The game benefits the The Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, and everyone, from those going on to college football to those hanging up the cleats, say the invitation to play the game is an honor and a privilege.

The annual all-star game kicks off at 4 p.m. at the UNI-Dome and features 44 graduated high school seniors on each team, representing the state’s North and South.

Each player gets two quarters of action. For some, it will be the last football game they play.

However, even those who will play in college recognize the meaning of the game.

Northern Iowa’s Jalen Rima, a Cedar Rapids Prairie graduate and The Gazette’s Male Athlete of the Year, took a week off from working out with the Panthers to play for the South team.

Rima had already been in Cedar Falls for much of the summer — he is not sick of dorm food, yet — and did not think the week off from working out with the Panthers would have any negative effect. He said he was honored to have been chosen for the team.

“It’s a huge honor, knowing that it’s the best players in Iowa that come out here and compete against each other,” Rima said. “And meeting some of the guys has been a great thing.”

He said he’s worked with the UNI coaching staff on learning the playbook, as well as footwork, and can see himself slotting in for kick returns and may make the field at receiver as well.

Many of the players will not don cleats, shoulder pads, or helmets again. The Shrine Bowl gives them one more chance to play their game. Others, like Rima and UNI teammate Nick Ellis of Aplington-Parkersburg, who will play for the North, have more football ahead of them.

“There’s only a few guys out here who get the privilege to do this,” Ellis said of the Shrine Bowl. “We’re fortunate enough to keep playing the game of football, where most kids aren’t able to keep going if they love football.”

Ellis slots in as a lineman at UNI, and may red-shirt this season, though he’ll be able to play in the Shrine Bowl.

• More: Future Hawkeyes relish Shrine Bowl opportunity

The talent level may vary on the field, with players finishing careers or heading to all levels of college football, but the basics of the game are the same for everyone.

“Football’s still about blocking and tackling,” North head coach Brian Wilken, of Newell Fonda, said. “These are tremendous young men and tremendous football players representing their schools and their community with pride.

“They have an opportunity to give back to the less fortunate ... their legs, being able to run, provides opportunities for those people that are unable to walk.”

[Shrine Bowl rosters]

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