The 40th annual Lions All Star Football game on Saturday, June 15, at Modesto Junior College, was also a preview of the competition that lies ahead for the college-bound players.
Quarterback Zack Johnson and running back Evan Owens, both from Kimball High, and Tracy High offensive guard Josh Bongiovanni and running back-linebacker Bruce Russell were all key players for the North team, which lost the Lions all-star game 17-14.
A unique twist to this year’s game was that both quarterbacks for the North team had the same name. Zack Johnson from Kimball High and Zack Johnson from Calaveras High took turns leading the North team’s offensive drives.
Kimball’s Johnson earned the Lions’ Most Valuable Offensive Player award after he ran the ball 13 times for 71 yards, completed three of four passes for 31 yards and scored both of the North team’s touchdowns.
Johnson said that after three years in the Valley Oak League, he got a preview of skill and intensity he will find as quarterback for the Modesto Junior College Raiders in the fall.
“This is just a whole new level, a new outlook on how college is going to be,” Johnson said. “A lot of (Lions All Stars) already have scholarships and will be playing at the D-I level. You can tell the talent is already there.”
The game was scoreless in the first half. In the third quarter, South quarterback and game MVP Aaron Zwahlen, from Downey High of Modesto, threw a touchdown pass, ran in a touchdown and made both point-after kicks to put the South up 14-0.
Johnson made a 32-yard touchdown run at the end of the third and a 9-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth. A 2-point conversion run by Anthony Cotta of Sierra High tied the game at 14-14.
Zwahlen kicked the South’s game-winning field goal with four seconds left in the game.
The game itself was one aspect of a memorable week for the all-star players. Tracy’s Bongiovanni and Russell, both bound for NCAA Division II colleges, enjoyed the week of practice and team bonding.
“I wish we could have come away with the win, but I’m glad for the experience that I had,” said Russell, who is headed to Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., in the fall. “We started out not knowing anyone, not talking to anyone the first day. By the end we were hanging out with different teammates, laughing, joking.”
Bongiovanni, who will start at Eastern New Mexico University in the fall, said the practices and the game were a good time for all.
“It’s one of the funnest experiences I’ve had in football,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to play against guys with some real skill.”
Owens, a Kimball High graduate who will play running back at San Joaquin Delta College in the fall, took the opportunity to make a lasting impression on coaches and other players.
“Everybody here is good,” Owens said. “We worked hard at practice, and everybody was very competitive.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.