MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – All-Star Football week has begun. The All-Stars arrived at the Superior Dome in Marquette Monday afternoon for check-in. Both teams held their first practice and a food drive was held for St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantry.

All of the players and coaches collected food and brought it with them to check-in, which was then taken to St. Vincent de Paul.  The huge quantity of food collected is a testament to how well these players are supported in their communities.  Staff at the food pantry were elated and welcomed the donation with much gratitude. 

Organized locally, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, witness God’s love by embracing all works of charity and justice.  The Society collaborates with other people of goodwill in relieving need and addressing its causes, making no distinction in those served.  Friends in need may receive assistance with food, shelter, utilities, rent, material needs, prescriptions, transportation and other forms of charity.  The stores are successful due to the generosity of community members who donate.  The U.P. Football All-Star Game is very pleased to be a part of the community helping others in need. 

After the players checked in, each team completed two practices. Both teams got to practice once in the Dome, and for many, it was the first time being in the Dome and playing on the turf. The coaches talked early and often about making the most of their opportunities and taking advantage of the time here to make new friends and enjoy the experience. 

Team Black head coach George Niemi of Ishpeming, brought Gavin Sundberg (Head Coach at Ishpeming and Jeff Olson (long-time head coach of Ishpeming) to assist.  The other Black Team coaches include Mike Berutti of West Iron County, Tyler Thomas (Head Coach at Ontonagon), Scott Syrjala, Brad Wiljanen and Eli Wolf of Westwood.  The Black Team coaches all have many years of history working together, so they are a very cohesive group already.  They also have many All-Star Game appearances, so they are familiar with the week and what it takes to be successful.  Both Gavin Sundberg (’19) and Tyler Thomas (‘14) played in this game when they were seniors.  It is great to have former players go into coaching and continue the U.P. Football tradition.  That certainly keeps an event like this going. 

Team Red head coach Joe Noha of Menominee brought all of his assistants from Menominee.  They include Chad Brandt, Lucas Chouinard, Dave Clarke, Mason Kewley and Dave Mathieu.  Coach Noha will be stepping down as head coach at Menominee next fall, and Coach Brandt will take over the helm of the Maroon program, so this year’s All-Star Game serves as a changing of the guard for Menominee, and a chance for all of the coaches to work together one last time before the coaching change next fall. 

The first practice is always about getting the players into positions where they can benefit the team best.  The All-Star Game provides many opportunities for players to get experience in different positions they have not tried before.  With the small size of most U.P. high school rosters, the best players often play positions where they are needed most and do not get a chance to experience other positions they might be more suited to play.  With so many great players all on the same team here, the coaches are able to move players around to accentuate their strengths, so it is fun to watch the players thrive at multiple positions. 

Both teams spent time evaluating the talents of each player as they worked through the drills and formations.  The players started to immediately develop some chemistry with each repetition and play.  It was easy to see why these players were selected as the best in the U.P. because it did not take them long to settle into a practice routine and begin looking like a football team.  Both teams spent time in their individual position groups, as well as scrimmaging offense vs defense as an entire unit.  Spirits were definitely soaring when the groups came together and guys got a chance to finally hit each other, after so many months out of pads. 

It is hard to tell at this point which team has an advantage. Both teams are working hard to figure out their personnel and where each player can help the team in the best way. We will have to see how the week progresses, but both teams look to be very focused on their own game plans.  Each team has players with unique strengths, and the coaches are developing ways to get the most out of every player and create the most advantageous match-ups. 

The biggest impact on the draft, the game plan, and the overall atmosphere of the game is definitely the addition of “motion” to the offense.  Allowing an offensive player to go in motion opens up the game, and makes it significantly more difficult for the defense.  We should see some creative play-calling, and scoring, in this year’s game on Saturday. 

Day 2 (Tuesday) will see everyone settle into a regular routine of two practices, along with Media Day in the evening.  Team and individual pictures will be taken and players will be available for interviews with any attending media. Players and coaches will be available for interviews at 6:45 PM at the Dome.