116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — A pair of future Iowa Hawkeyes shined brightest in the 50th annual Iowa Shrine Bowl Saturday evening at the UNI-Dome.
In what became a defensive battle with the North edging the South, 24-17, future Hawkeye lineman Aaron Graves earned defensive MVP with a three-sack performance for the North.
The four-star recruit from Southeast Valley said having a final taste of high school football before turning the page to his collegiate career was meaningful.
“It was a great feeling. I texted my mom and dad and head coach (that) it kind of hit me an hour before kickoff that this is my last high school game ever,” Graves said. “I texted them, ‘it’s crazy to think about.’
“It’s kind of just a surreal, out of body experience.”
Future teammate Landyn Van Kekerix garnered offensive MVP for the North with two rushing touchdowns along with a 22-yard reception.
A three-star commit from Rock Valley, Van Kekerix enjoyed the opportunity to play offense one last time before becoming a full-time linebacker at Iowa.
“This whole week was awesome hanging out with these guys and getting to know them and everything,” Van Kekerix said. “That was fun to be on the offensive side. Defense is fun, too, though.”
Beyond the pair of future Hawkeyes who played well, a number of area athletes created memorable moments.
Iowa City Liberty’s Darius Willis-Newell won offensive MVP for the South, leading the team in rushing yards and punching in a score from 1 yard out in the second quarter.
Willis-Newell said he was eager to measure himself against some of the state’s best talent ahead of his college career, set to begin next week at Iowa Central. He also added the number 14 to his Liberty helmet in honor of his late teammate Owen Skelley.
“I’ve been preparing for college so I wanted to see where I was at (and) the Shrine Bowl was a good opportunity,” Willis-Newell said. “Played against some good players and I just wanted to show what I could do on the next level. I knew I was a good football player, but this (MVP award) here kind of let me know that I was meant to play with the big dogs.”
With the North leading 24-17 late in the fourth quarter, a missed field goal kept a South comeback alive. But Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Jeron Senters sealed the game with an interception.
“I really enjoyed high school football and I really took this seriously because I knew this was my last chance to represent Kennedy on the football field,” Senters said. “(The interception) was just what my previous coach taught me, coach (Michael) Mulherin. In zone coverage you just make sure you’re deeper than the deepest man and read the quarterback's eyes. When I saw him looking in my area I just played the ball.”
Other notable highlights included a blocked punt by Solon’s Cayden Knipper for the South. Mount Vernon’s Owen Brase intercepted Akron-Westfield’s Cade Walkingstick in the first quarter, North Linn’s Austin Hilmer had receptions of 34 and 35 yards and West Delaware’s Kyle Cole had a key pass breakup.