Joe Davidson

Optimist All-Star team scores with Shriners patients

Elk Grove’s Eltoro Allen (7), greets Elk Grove Thundering Herd's Manny Scott-Anderson (16) after his touchdown run to lead 27-7 after the point after attempt was good as Elk Grove hosts Wood High School of Vacaville, Friday November 21, 2014. Brian Baer/Special to the Bee
Elk Grove’s Eltoro Allen (7), greets Elk Grove Thundering Herd's Manny Scott-Anderson (16) after his touchdown run to lead 27-7 after the point after attempt was good as Elk Grove hosts Wood High School of Vacaville, Friday November 21, 2014. Brian Baer/Special to the Bee sabeephotos@sacbee.com

When 40 high school football players marched into Shriners Hospital for Children on Saturday, it wasn’t just the Christmas lights that lit up the place.

Scores of youngsters beamed at the grinning South All-Stars who came to drop off gifts and chat with patients. Mike Johnson, the coach of The Sacramento Bee Optimist All-Star Classic South team, wanted to give the players some perspectiveover the holidays during an otherwise relaxed practice week.

The South takes on the North on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Folsom High School in the 58th charity game that will benefit Camp Ross Relles.

The game, featuring top regional seniors, has more meaning than first downs and touchdowns, Johnson said.

“It’s so important to give back, because there are so many kids who can’t do what we do – run and play – and their eyes just lit up when they saw us,” Johnson said. “We’re so lucky with what we can do, to be able to play in this game, to coach it. We all shared a very special moment as we represented more than 20 area high schools, and they represented themselves with such great class.”

Despite being sidelined for the game with a stress fracture in his foot, Oak Ridge tight end Ryan Sullivan joined his South All-Stars for the Shriners visit.

“Walking boot, crutches and all,” Johnson said. “Just love that. He said it was important to still come. He gets it.”

Blending programs – The Optimist game fosters sportsmanship as rivals become teammates.

For the South, Franklin players, coached by Johnson, have merged with Elk Grove after three practices – something that only happens in an All-Star setting, players and coaches joked.

“That so-called hatred for the Herd, not here,” Johnson said. “Love the Herd.”

Johnson especially loves having defensive tackle Sai Ta’amu on his side – plus running back Eltoro Allen, linebackers Manny Scott-Anderson and Spencer Sheff, and defensive back Shaunard Harts.

Franklin players include wide receiver Brandon Johnson, the coach’s son, defensive ends Reid Abshear and Patrick Walker and linemen Joey DiDonato and Ronell Deo.

Inderkum coach Terry Stark, who heads the North team, reached out to Grant players to fill the roster after the Pacers lost to Folsom in the Northern California Division I championship game.

Inderkum and Grant, several miles apart, haven’t played each other, but the teams are neighborhood rivals in that they compare scores and debate which team is better.

The North roster includes wide receiver Larry Hardy, quarterback Jonathan Henry, kicker Javier Gomez, running back Ivan Prevost, linebacker Nu’umo Falo and linemen Jabar Hally and Prabhneet Sahi from Inderkum and defensive back Malik Goss-Pruitt, running back TieNeal Martin, wide receiver Xavier Cox and linemen Jacques Cheatham and Tevita Tupou from Grant.

Versatile quarterback – The South quarterbacks can pass and throw, giving the team different options.

Matt Jimison of Vista del Lago is known for his arm strength, and Chris Guillen of Christian Brothers can throw with touch and run through and around defenders.

“Exciting,” Johnson said. “Jimison can throw it 10,000 miles per hour. I have to tell him, ‘Throttle it back a little, brother!’ And I’m telling you, Guillen is a dark-horse talent. He’s not getting recruited, and I’m scratching my head on that. He’s a player.”

The North quarterbacks are just as versatile. Inderkum’s Henry understands Stark’s wing-T offense, and Logan Hurst of Del Oro and Clark Pietromonaco of Placer can hurt teams with their arm or legs.

Small-school flavor – The Bee Small-School Classic on Friday at 6 p.m. at Capital Christian features players in Divisions IV through VII.

The North, coached by Highlands’ Matt Cokley, includes players from Bear River and Colfax, Pioneer Valley League rivals that played for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V title, won by Bear River.

Bear River players include running back-linebacker John Voter, wide receivers Josh Davis and Ryan Waghner, defensive tackle Cannon Fetter and linebacker Kyle Krogman. From Colfax: running back Tim Rawlins, lineman Brian Little and defensive back Sam LaHaie.

The South, headed by the Capital Christian staff, includes players from D-IV NorCal finalist Capital Christian and Northern Section powerhouse Winters.

Capital players: running back LeKayle Johnston and linemen Jared Shaw and Chris Victoriano. From Winters: quarterback Jacob Lowrie; defensive back Damon Burke; linemen Adrian Combs, Kris Kays, Hunter Miller, Rickey Riise and Ryan Soto; and running back Chaz Matthews.

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

ALL-STAR FOOTBALL GAMES

SACRAMENTO BEE OPTIMIST ALL-STAR CLASSIC

Who: Area seniors from Divisions I-III

When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

Where: Folsom High School

Tickets: $10, 8-under free; charactercombine.com or at gate

SACRAMENTO BEE SMALL-SCHOOL CLASSIC

Who: Area seniors from Divisions IV-VII

When: Friday, 6 p.m.

Where: Capital Christian High School

Tickets: $10, 8-under free; charactercombine.com or at gate

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