For seven local football players, Thursday marks the end of their high school playing days. The players are a mix of teammates and rivals, but in the 55th edition of the Brea Lions Club Orange County North-South Prep All-Star Football Game, the seven are united.
The seven have teamed up to represent the South with one goal. They plan to go out as winners.
The players graduated from their respective high schools last month. Since then, they have been looking forward to Thursday's 7:15 p.m. kickoff at Orange Coast College.
The site of the game is right across the street from Costa Mesa High, where Oronde Crenshaw and Quinton Bell attended school. Crenshaw is lining up at tailback and linebacker, and Bell will start at free safety and see action at wide receiver.
The South secondary features two other locals, Corona del Mar strong safety Charlie Griffin and Newport Harbor cornerback Cory Stowell. While rivals in high school, Griffin and Stowell played together as kids with the Newport-Mesa Junior All-American Seahawks.
Another former member of the Seahawks is Luke Napolitano. A receiver back then, Napolitano is a quarterback nowadays. Napolitano has his center, Giovanni Gentosi, from Corona del Mar blocking for him. One of his targets will be Newport Harbor receiver Quest Truxton, who used to try to burn CdM during the annual Battle of the Bay games.
"Can't wait to get out there and experience another great football atmosphere," Napolitano said. "It has been awesome playing with [Giovanni] and Charlie the last couple of years and [it] will be a great way to top it off. And I have become close with the Harbor guys and I'm looking forward to teaming up with them."
Out of the seven players, six plan to play in college. Napolitano is bound for the University of San Diego, Gentosi to UCLA, Bell to Texas Southern, Stowell to San Diego State, Crenshaw to Saddleback College, and Truxton to Golden West College.
The six players expect to have more games after the OC All-Star Game. The only one who does not is Griffin. He is playing in his final game.
"It is an honor for me to play in this game," Griffin said. "I have loved working with the Huntington Beach coaching staff [that is guiding the South]. It has been fun to strap on the helmet and shoulder pads. It makes me realize how much I am going to miss football."
Griffin won't be too far away from the game. He is going to the University of Texas to study business, and on Saturdays, he will see how Greater Austin backs the Longhorns.
Raised a UCLA fan, Griffin said he has started to fall in love with the Longhorns. He will still root for the Bruins because one of his former CdM teammates, Gentosi, is a preferred walk-on player at UCLA. The two are brothers, along with Napolitano, and they each played vital roles to the Sea Kings' historic 16-0 season capped off by a CIF State Division III Bowl Game win.
One of those CdM wins came against Newport Harbor in the Back Bay rivalry. The Sea Kings' first triumph against the Sailors in seven years took place at OCC in September in front of a sold-out crowd of 7,600.
Ten months later, Griffin, Gentosi and Napolitano will take the same field with two Sailors, Stowell and Truxton. Bell and Crenshaw will join them and do their best to help the South prevail.
Only Griffin, Gentosi and Napolitano won their final game with their high school team. Stowell and Truxton lost in the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division final to Huntington Beach, and Bell and Crenshaw fell in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs to Katella.
Bell and Crenshaw have stood out during practices leading up to the OC All-Star Game. It took a couple of practices to get used to the helmets and shoulder pads for Bell. The 6-foot-3, 207-pounder found his stride, a month after running the 100-meter sprint in 10.51 seconds and placing third at the CIF State track and field championships in Clovis.
"We're going to get to play basically on our home turf, next door to our school," Bell said. "It is important for us because the South has a five-game winning streak and we're trying to keep it going."