IT’S GAME TIME
HANOVER — Laconia’s Raige Hollis weighs 340 pounds. Monadnock’s Nick Dragon checks in at 331 pounds. Together, they are 671 pounds of defensive tackle with one goal for Saturday’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl.
Clog the middle.
“If they’re trying to run it up the middle, that’s just plain stupid,” Hollis said. “It’s going to be bad.
“Me and Dragon are going to fill up two guys each. We almost weigh as much as [Vermont’s] entire offensive line.”
Best of luck snapping that 11-game losing streak, Vermont.
The 59th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl — played between graduated seniors from the two states — will kick off at 2:30 p.m. at Dartmouth College in Hanover.
Since 1954, the game has raised more than $4.5 million for Shrine hospitals, which provide healthcare for children. “Whether we were rivals in high school, whether we hated each other or were best friends, I think it’s great that we all come together,” said Franklin’s Brian Pickowicz, one of six local players who will represent New Hampshire. “Both sides and both states, we can put on a good show and raise a tremendous amount of money for the kids.”
New Hampshire has won the last 11 Shrine Bowls and Pickowicz said the team is working hard to continue the streak.
“These last few practices have just been all out, everyone giving their all, everything they have,” he said. “We’re just really pushing each other to give the best competition so we can get better of Vermont.”
Plymouth’s Cole Brooker, a late ad- dition to the team, agreed.
Brooker got the call to replace injured Pinkerton running back Emmitt Smith two days before the start of camp. Eager to continue a family tradition — his uncle played in the game — Brooker quickly called off work and went to join his teammates.
“It’s been great,” Brooker said. “Immediately we all had team chemistry and we’re just ready to go. We’re playing for a good cause again and we’re just really excited.”
New Hampshire seems to always be ready to go for the Shrine Game. The Granite State leads the series with a 43-13-2 record. The last time Vermont won the Shrine Bowl was in 2000, a 47-40 victory.
Now, can New Hampshire make it 12 in a row?
“We’re a great team and we have great individual players,” Hollis said. “It’s insane. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about our talent.”
And Plymouth’s Nick Reisert said all that talent made practice run smoothly.
“Practice has been good,” he said. “Everyone here has talent so that really makes it easier.”
Hollis will start at defensive tackle, while Brooker is New Hampshire’s starting strong safety. His teammate, Reisert, will start at outside linebacker, while Inter- Lakes/Moultonborough’s Conor Donovan will start at the other outside linebacker position. Laconia’s Billy Mahoney and Franklin’s Pickowicz will come off the bench to spell players on defense.
Pickowicz — a linebacker — set a personal goal at the start of the season to make the Shrine Bowl roster. Franklin plays in Division VI, so the Shrine Bowl gives Pickowicz the chance to perform with athletes from larger high schools in the New Hampshire.
“It’s a good experience, especially coming from a Division VI school to come and compete with the best kids in the state,” he said. “I feel like it’s a really good challenge for me. I’m definitely pushing myself better than ever. I really enjoy the competition.”
For Pickowicz and many others, the Shrine Bowl will not only bring their high school football careers to an end, but will also likely mark the last time they play competitive football.
“I’m really looking forward to getting into the next part of my life,” Pickowicz said. “But playing all the sports in high school meant a lot to me and it still does. I think we’re going to end on a positive note.”
Donovan, the only Division VI player in Saturday’s starting lineup, said at first he didn’t get much respect being from Division VI, but that all changed when the linebacker took the practice field.
“When you say you’re from D-VI, [other players] just give you that look and think you’re mediocre,” said Donovan, who led his Lakers to the Division VI championship last year. “But as soon as the hitting goes on, I think I earned my respect.”
Donovan will also handle some punting and kicking duties Saturday.
Laconia’s Mahoney will play defensive end in the Shrine Bowl. With Vermont’s best players eager to starting their own winning streak, Mahoney isn’t going to chalk up a ‘W’ just yet.
“It’s an All-Star game, so obviously it’s the best of the best,” Mahoney said. “They’re not the biggest team, but I’m guessing they’re going to have speed and they’re coming hard. I’m not taking this lightly.”
The Shrine Bowl returns to Dartmouth College for the first time since 2008. Windsor (Vt.) High School held the game the last three years while Dartmouth had ongoing construction.
General admission tickets are $10. Reserved seating is $20. Tickets will be available at the gate Saturday.