William Harris – the coach of the Missouri All-Stars, who will meet their Kansas counterparts at 7 tonight at College Boulevard Activities Center in Olathe, Kan., in the BeYounion.com Kansas vs. Missouri All-Star Game – walked off the Van Horn High School practice field Wednesday feeling confident, and bittersweet.
“The first few days, the guys don’t really know how to take us, because my coaches and I are hands on, and really want to know our players,” said Harris, who is also the head football coach at Van Horn.
“Now, that we all know each other and have a lot of interaction, practice is over. I want another week or two of practices and another game or two, because I have really grown close to these guys.
“We are a team, and we’re expecting big things from them tomorrow night. It’s been so much fun to watch them grow. Especially the guys who have been challenged – you know, the guys who dominate on their high school teams and come to these practices and realize everyone here is as good, or maybe even a little bit better than they are.
“It’s so great to see them take their game to the next level, to accept the challenge and become a better player. That’s the type of approach that we believe is going to help us win tomorrow against the Kansas all stars.”
Tonight’s game is the 28th annual matchup between the two state’s best metro area senior players. Kansas ended a seven-game losing streak last year with a dominating 38-0 victory that left a bad taste in the mouths of the Missouri all-stars.
“I think it would be better to not even be on the team than be a part of a loss like that,” Blue Springs defensive end Simeon Sullivan said. “To me, being on this team is such a great honor, and coming from Blue Springs, I’m used to playing in big games and having a lot of success.
“We have worked so hard the past week or so to make sure nothing like last year happens this year. I’m not going to predict a victory for Missouri, but I think it will be a competitive game. I am so impressed with our coaches, from Coach Harris to all his assistants. They are great coaches.
“They have challenged us and made us better players, and better people. I think we’ve all grown up a little bit, and playing with the best players in the state make you want to work hard and improve your game to show them that you belong to be on this team.”
Grain Valley defensive end Bennett Disco echoed Sullivan’s sentiment.
“To practice with the best players, to practice against the best players, and to play the best players tomorrow night from Kansas is all pretty amazing,” Disco said. “There were some practices at Grain Valley that I could kind of dominate, but I can’t dominate against these guys.
“I’ve raised my level of play the past week, and this has made me a better player. It’s like taking the next step, towards the next step – and for me, that’s playing football at UCM (University of Central Missouri).
“I know I’m going to have to take my game to another level to have success in college and being on this team, and working with Coach Harris and his staff, have helped me realize just how challenging college is going to be. And I want to thank them for that. And I want to thank (Grain Valley) Coach (David) Allie and our staff for helping me become an all star. This has been an amazing experience.”
Few players can appreciate the importance of being on Coach Harris’ staff more than his Van Horn quarterback Shaun Ross, who smiles from ear to ear when recalling their phone conversation where Harris let him know that he was his first Falcon to receive all-star recognition.
“Coach Harris called me and asked me what size jersey and pants I wear,” said Ross, who has assumed the same leadership role with the all-stars that he achieved at Van Horn.
“I asked him why he was asking and he told me I’d been selected to the Missouri All-Star team. I was like, ‘You have to be kidding me.’ But he was not kidding me, it was all real and it was so amazing.
“Like I (said) last week, I felt like we were a team after the first practice, and now, we are really a team and we are so focused. Coach Harris and all the coaches are amazing. They have really challenged us and I can’t wait to see how we perform tomorrow night.
“It’s the biggest game for most of us and we want to represent Missouri and get a win. And for me and Coach Harris and the other coaches from Van Horn, we want to make a statement for our school.
“I remember when I was a little kid and I’d watch Michael Jordan and think, ‘I want to do that. I want to play like that.’ I’m just a player from Van Horn High School and I’m not comparing myself to Michael Jordan, but if I can inspire one player from my high school to want to work hard and represent our school in the all-star game that would be incredible. That would be so special to me, maybe my most special contribution to my high school and our football program.”