The streak has been around for a long time now. So long, it’s now almost become an heirloom.
That’s how the Missouri players selected to play in the Papa John’s Kansas vs. Missouri All-Star Game are treating it anyway. They know the Show-Me state all-stars have won the last six battles between the top recently graduated high-school football players from Missouri and Kansas, and they feel the responsibility to pass the streak on to the next generation.
“There’s some guys who came up from those previous years, saying we played this game for all the guys who played before that, too,” Missouri star and Lee’s Summit running back Salvatore Garozzo said. “We’re playing for them and trying to keep that streak for them, too. It’s a pretty big weight on our shoulders.”
The Missouri stars will put that streak on the line Thursday night, when the 26th edition of the game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Blue Springs South. Even with that long run, Missouri only has a 13-11 lead in the all-time series, with one game wiped out by weather.
And Missouri hasn’t exactly dominated in every one of those wins during its run. Missouri routed Kansas 35-7 in 2015, but it eked out a 22-21 victory the year before and rallied late for a 28-24 win last year.
Bryan DeLong, the Missouri team’s head coach and the head coach at Center, knows his players have been talking about the streak, and he’s fine with that. DeLong doesn’t want them obsessing over it, so he’s decided not to bring it up since the team started practicing last week.
“I haven’t talked a lot about it to be honest. I don’t want any pressure on the boys or anything,” DeLong said during a workout Monday at North Kansas City High School. “I just want them to go out and play to their full capability.”
What DeLong has talked about is mistakes, and how they can be amplified in an all-star situation. With little practice time, and players that are for the most part rusty after having not been in a game for nearly six months, the conditions can be ripe for a string of game-changing miscues.
“We talked a lot about eliminating mistakes,” DeLong said. “We have pointed to games in the past, how those have been decided by a punt return, who doesn’t fumble the ball, who doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot.”
And one mistake could put the streak to an end. Garozzo said there is some fear about becoming that team – the one that loses the streak. But not much. The Missouri stars, he said, are far too confident to consider the possibility.
“We haven’t had that on our mind at all,” Garozzo said. “We’ve just been trying to get excited about beating them and how we’re going to do it. We haven’t had any thoughts about losing, really.”
Garozzo hopes to be a factor in Missouri’s game plan, and he sees an opportunity to contribute. At Lee’s Summit, the 6-0 190-pound Garozzo rushed for 525 yards on 138 carries and scored nine touchdowns last season, mostly on up-the-middle runs designed to free up strong-armed quarterback Dalton Hill and the speedy receivers in the Tigers’ pass-happy offense. As an all-star, Garozzo hopes to get a chance to stand out a little more.
“I think with this game, with an all-star O-line and a little different offensive scheme, I think I’ll be able to get a little bit more yardage than I would have during the regular season,” said Garozzo, who will play for Central Missouri this fall. “So I’m excited.”
Lee’s Summit West product Zach Shanholtzer is a speedy wide receiver, and he also likes what he sees in Missouri’s offensive scheme. But after suffering a hip flexor injury in a recent practice, Shanholtzer, who caught five touchdown passes and rushed for three TDs last fall, fears his time on the field could be limited.
“Obviously, the goal is to be able to go out there 100 percent,” Shanholtzer said. “But if I’m being honest, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I just hope I can go out there and make some plays so whoever came out to support me can at least see me on the field playing.”
Shanholtzer is off to Pittsburg State this fall, so he knows he has more football ahead of him. But he said that’s also what made being part of this game more special. It’s a last chance to have some fun before the grind of college football.
“It is our last big high school event,” Shanholtzer said. “Being called an all-star, being able to participate in the game and with all the hype, I feel like I want to do what I can to make a memory of it.”
It will be a happier memory, of course, if Missouri can pass down the streak, and another year of bragging rights, for future all-star teams to treasure.
“They want to win,” DeLong said. “They see the rivalry and know there’s a very strong, physical brand of football that’s played in the whole Kansas City metro area. And they take pride that the better of that is played in Missouri.”