Five players from Los Banos and Dos Palos took part in the 29th-annual North/South Rotary All-Star Football Game on June 27 in Merced – Los Banos and Pacheco players for the North, and Dos Palos players for the South.
Pacheco offensive lineman Victor Cortez saw playing time at right guard, Los Banos linebacker Darren Baty spend time at left outside linebacker and Pacheco defensive back Adam Perez pulled out a fourth-quarter interception for the North team, while Dos Palos running back Izzac Suarez got plenty of carries and kicker Noah Croninger punched through a few extra points for the South in the North’s 35-14 victory.
“It’s pretty fun,” said Baty, who is headed to California State University, Monterey Bay, in the fall to pursue a biology major. “It was a great experience getting to know all these guys and getting coached up by these coaches. It was a different atmosphere.”
Of the group, only one is certain of playing college football later this year – Cortez will join the Gavilan College offensive line in Gilroy for some junior-college action. He said the game was a good preview.
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“Yeah, because of the 15-minute quarters, and just with the bigger and better competition,” Cortez said. “I think it did prepare me, and I’m pretty excited to go out there and represent my school and myself. It’s going to be really fun.”
He said it was also fun helping out a former foe – North running back Ja’Quan Gardner from Central Valley scored three touchdowns in the game.
“It was just a pleasant experience getting to know some of the guys you hear about in the newspaper, just the premier guys around the area,” Cortez said. “It was just a pleasure to play with a lot of them. They’re great dudes, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Suarez, who is headed to NCAA-Division 3 Iowa Lutheran College to wrestle, was another player who found himself in the same huddle with a former foe in Firebaugh quarterback Josh Allen. Allen and the Eagles got the best of Suarez and the Broncos in a 52-28 victory last fall.
“Not a lot of people know, but me and Josh have been best friends since we were little kids, and he actually played Pop Warner football with me,” Suarez said. “And then it’s just great to get back on the field with him, and it’s cool taking handoffs from him. I wish he was my quarterback, but things just happen the way they do.”
The game was bittersweet for Suarez, being his last football game. But even though the going was tough against a stiff North defense, he said it was a great experience.
“Playing in this game, playing a little bit extra than the usual all-star player would, it’s cool, but all the glory to these guys, they’re good, fun teammate, outgoing guys,” Suarez said. “It was just fun to get to know new people, and it’s cool because we clicked right away, and you don’t usually see that in an all-star team.”
Perez, who recorded a pair of tackles from the safety position during a long South drive in the third quarter and then picked off a South pass in the fourth, said he’s going to try to catch on with the Monterey Peninsula College football team, part of the California junior college system. Failing that, he’ll be headed to the fire academy. He unknowingly dove in front of a teammate for his interception.
“I knew they were going to throw the ball deep, that late in the game, and he was rolling out toward my side,” Perez said. “So I just bounced to my side, saw the ball in the air, and I think I took my teammate’s interception, but it’s all good.
“But I’m not going to lie, their running backs were hitting pretty hard. I felt it.”