Nelson Smith was surrounded by good high school football players throughout his coaching career at Garner High, but this week he has coached an extraordinary group of players as the head coach of the North Carolina team in Saturday’s Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
The Shrine Bowl is the oldest high school all-star game in the nation. The 76th annual event pitting an all-star team from North Carolina against a similar team from South Carolina is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Wofford College’s Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C.
Smith and his assistants picked the 44-player team that will represent North Carolina.
“That wasn’t easy,” Smith said. “You not only had to look at the players, but also the system that you want to run.”
Players also had to be nominated by their high school coaches to be selected.
The teams have had eight practices. Smith has tried to avoid putting in too much in such a short period of time.
“This is a great bunch of kids,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to work with some of the best players I’ve ever seen. I want us to go out Saturday and play football. I wanted them to feel good about what we’re doing and not have to do a lot of thinking about what we’re trying to do.”
Smith believes the game will be decided by two or three big plays.
“That’s usually the case in all-star games,” he said. “Somebody will break a kick return or pick up a fumble.”
Northern Guilford runner T.J. Logan has shown the ability to make big plays in North Carolina practice this week.
“He has tremendous speed and vision,” Smith said. “He’ll sit in the offensive tackle’s hip pocket, see his spot and have a burst of speed. I coached Anthony Barbour in high school and was mesmerized by him. Logan is the same type of runner.”
As impressed as Smith is with his team, he knows South Carolina has just as many outstanding players.
“They’ve got good players and we’ve got good players. It should be a good game,” he said.