It was strange at first, Meade High School graduate Alec Eaton admitted, to practice with some of his former rivals last week at Frostburg State University in preparation for the second annual Maryland Football Coaches Association all-star game.
Eaton no longer had to worry about how his defense would contain Old Mill graduate Darnell Dixon, and Broadneck graduate Kyle Bloomfield was lining up in the defensive backfield behind Eaton instead of across the line of scrimmage from him.
They were wearing the same uniforms and playing for a bit of county pride.
"The Anne Arundel guys, Dixon and Bloomfield, at first I didn't know them," Eaton said. "But we had a common bond, being from the same county, so we hung out and talked and became friends. After that, we had kind of a connection."
It did not take much longer, Eaton said, for him to feel a similar connection with his other teammates on the East all-stars, and that was apparent Friday night at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium. The East defeated the West, 48-31, in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.
"By the time the game came around, we were really prepared and ready for it, and I think the game showed that," Eaton said. "We all knew we were chosen for this all-star game, so they viewed us as top players, but we didn't let that get to us. We repeated saying, 'We're not all-stars, we're players. We're playing for a team.' We all knew it wasn't about individuals. We were on a team, and we went out to win."
All-stars from Maryland had played against all-stars from Pennsylvania in the Big 33 Game in the 1980s and early 1990s, and then against all-stars from Virginia from 1994 to 2002. Last year, however, the MFCA decided on a game composed solely of in-state players. The 2003 MFCA all-star game was the first intrastate all-star football game including all Maryland schools since 1975.
Like last year, the regions essentially were divided by Interstate 95. The East team was composed of players from Anne Arundel and other bayside counties; Prince George's, Charles and Cecil counties; and Baltimore City. The West team comprised players from Allegany, Baltimore, Carroll, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Frederick, Montgomery and Washington counties.
Eaton and the rest of the players on both teams met at Frederick High on July 5, boarded buses bound for Frostburg and then went through four days of intense three-a-day practices leading up to Friday night's game. Most of the players had not worn pads since early November, but Eaton said the East's coaching staff got them ready to play quickly and effectively.
"I think how the practices were run made it easier to get prepared in a short amount of time," Eaton said. "The coaches really believed in us and coached us the best they could. We did the same thing. We played hard for them."
The East dominated much of Friday night's game and by late in the third quarter had built a 34-9 lead. The West scored a touchdown and added a two-point conversion to get within 34-17, and that's when things got a bit unconventional. Because of a rule designed to help keep the game close, the East kicked off after the West's second-half scores because it still led by eight or more points. The West team benefited from the rule twice.
"We wanted to put it on them, and [the score] would have been more than that if they hadn't kept giving them the ball back," said East quarterback Harold Dorman, a Potomac High graduate who completed 4 of 7 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
There did seem to be indications that the teams had developed a rivalry, even though they had been selected for their teams in the spring and had spent just a week together before the game. During the week the teams had little contact with each other and were not allowed to watch each other's practices.
"The whole week, the rivalry was building up and building up, and there was some trash talking here and there, of course," Eaton said.
The rivalry was most apparent late in the fourth quarter, when the East's Richard Abney (Forestville) and the West's Jon Moravec (Linganore) fought after a play, and benches nearly cleared.
Most of the action was on the field, however. Eaton and Bloomfield helped lead a fearsome East defense that created four turnovers, had several sacks and was at times dominant.