Spokane high school football players get taste of fall football in North Idaho

It’s been a year since Mt. Spokane quarterback Connor Marll buckled a chinstrap.

He, his teammates and the Greater Spokane League are feeling a coronavirus-induced void caused by the postponement of a 2020 football season.

Compounding Marll’s frustration was seeing his neighbors in Idaho conclude the state quarterfinals Saturday, a playoff round the Wildcats reached in November 2019.

They haven’t played since.

High school football in Washington has been pushed to the spring, and local restrictions are preventing several team-oriented activities.

“It’s been hard, especially being a senior,” Marll said. “It hurts not knowing what’s going to happen and the inconsistencies.”

Mead running back Caleb Shawen echoed Marll.

“It’s hard because we’re back in school, but we can’t go practice,” Shawen said. “But some other schools are back in school and practicing.”

But Idaho – much like Marll’s receivers in 7-on-7 competition on Saturday weekend – is open.

Over 100 players from Washington – mostly from the Spokane area, representing over a dozen schools – made the trek to Sandpoint on Saturday as part of the Cleats vs. Cancer High School Showcase at Barlow Stadium.

The event, spearheaded by former Washington State running back and current Pacific Lutheran running backs coach Derek Sparks, attracted some of Spokane County’s better players for combine drills, nonpadded 7-on-7 team competition and player evaluation.

Pink cancer awareness shirts and Cleats vs. Cancer masks were the day’s attire. Sparks, who concluded his WSU career in 1995 and authored the book “Lessons of the Game: The Untold Story of High School Football”, has a young daughter battling leukemia.

“It was Spokane’s time to shine, but we just took it Idaho,” said Sparks, who had a Cleats vs. Cancer event in Yakima two weeks ago. “It’s a little more flexible here.”

Sparks said he couldn’t get a facility for the event in Spokane, which is in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan. With COVID-19 shutting down spring player evaluations for college recruiters, Sparks wanted to give student-athletes the opportunity in the fall while helping raising money for a good cause, all while helping players get back to a semblance of team football.

North Central coach Sean Garvey reached out to Sandpoint to help host the event, Sparks said.

“It’s great to be out here playing and to finally see faces again,” said Shawen, who suffered a season-ending injury as a junior.

Several small-college recruiters were present, including coaches from Whitworth, College of Idaho, Pacific Lutheran and Eastern Oregon.

Toronto Argonauts quarterback and former Eastern Washington star Matt Nichols was one of several ex-EWU and ex-WSU standouts helping with player evaluation.

Matt Johnson, a former EWU safety drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2012, is now a defensive coordinator at Southridge High School in Kennewick, which also had players at the camp.

Former EWU receivers coach and ex-WSU receiver Jay Dumas – now the head coach at Davis High in Yakima – also brought players.

A team from Tigard, Oregon – a state that also postponed high school football – was also in attendance.

“Anytime you can come and compete, it’s great.” Marll said. “Especially when you haven’t been able to do it for about a year.”

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