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Column

The game never leaves former players

The Friday Night Lights won't turn on for five more weeks for the start of the 2017 prep football season in North Central Illinois and statewide.

For players from yesteryear, the Friday Night Lights never really turn off.

Thirty-two players will suit up for the Princeton Tiger Alumni football team with similar numbers playing for the Clippers. Ages range from the late 40s to this year's grads like Blake Janssen of Princeton.

Why do they do it?

Why risk injury and not be able to go to work Monday?

Why? Because the game never leaves them.

"I want to play under the lights again on Bryant Field. I want my kids to see me out there doing what I love in my hometown under the Friday Night Lights," former Tiger quarterback Shane Jones (2001) said. "In ways it's a dream come true. Now I just need to go perform like I know I can and help the team get this win. I"m super excited to get out there and be in that environment again."

Jones, a 34-year-old father of three young boys and the owner and founder of the highly successful Fooda Inc. in Chicago, didn't get to play in last year's alumni game at Mendota when he got hurt in practice. He's raring to go Friday, but is taking it easy until game day.

"I didn't get after as much this year because i didn't want to break before the game again. My heart couldn't take a letdown like that again. I'm feeling strong and still got some legs," said Jones, who will play slot receiver and return punts Friday.

Steve Morton of the Class of 1997, now the IT at PHS, desires to create memories with his son, Noah, 8, who will serve as one of the Tigers' water boys, that he didn't get with his father, Bernard, who was from the class of 1954.

"I never got to see my father play. I have his old yearbooks and they're filled with comments about how he played the game. I heard it too much maybe," Morton said. "But now that I have a son of my own, who has an interest in football, I figure the least I could do is go out there and maybe play for the both of them."

Tiger Alumni co-captain Brik Wedekind (2010), an assistant coach at his alma mater, said the alumni games bring back the camaraderie of high school football.

"I feel very honored to be able to play with guys that played before me and after me, and again with those I played with," he said.

Wedekind, who will be the starting quarterback for the Tiger Alumni, gets a bonus in getting to play alongside his brother, Jett (2016), who is six years his younger.

"I'm most excited to be able to play on the same football field as Jett, instead of just being his coach," Wedekind said.

David Gray, better known for his soccer skills at PHS as a former player (2000) and current head coach, was looking forward to a similar experience, playing alongside his brother, Steve. Gray was practicing with the Tiger Alumni, but he tore his ACL playing soccer last month, and will not be able to play Friday. He never played organized football, just a lot of backyard football, he said.

Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com.


 

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