Greg Hildebrand of Great Bend High School was disappointed earlier in the year when he wasn’t among those selected for the Kansas Shrine Bowl, pitting the East vs. the West in an all-star football game featuring graduated seniors.
Last Friday, Hildebrand’s disappointment turned to sheer joy.
Hildebrand, a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference quarterback, found out that he was a last-minute addition and was issued No. 1 for the West squad. The annual charity game for Shriners Hospitals is set for 7 on Saturday night at Hays’ Lewis Field Stadium.
“It’s pretty much a dream-come-true,” Hildebrand said in a phone interview from camp at Salina South High School. “I always thought about playing in the Shrine Bowl and I was pretty disappointed when I didn’t get that letter, but I guess things happen for a reason and I’m just glad I’m here right now.”
Hildebrand says he should be in game shape by week’s end.
“I’ve actually been lifting on my own and running twice a week (this summer),” he said. “I’m still not in shape and I’m not where I need to be, but I’m not in terrible shape.”
There’s only two quarterbacks in the West camp — Hildebrand and Derek Racette of Hutchinson Trinity. Wichita Heights’ Rick Wheeler, who guided the Falcons to the Class 6A state championship last fall and is the head coach for the West team, wanted Hildebrand in camp after watching him play the last two seasons.
“From what I’ve got from Coach Wheeler, Derek his pretty fast and quick and can run a lot,” Hildebrand said. “I’m more of a pocket passer.
“We will run Heights’ flex offense and we’re going to be in-and-out of the lineup. But I’m not sure (how the playing time will be distributed).”
When Hildebrand was a junior, he engineered the Panthers to a come-from-behind 28-26 win over Heights. Last year, as a senior, Hildebrand passed for 166 yards, including a pair of touchdown bombs to Alex Reed, during an emotional 45-14 loss to the Falcons at Memorial Stadium.
The Panthers secured second place in the WAC, behind Dodge City, with a 3-1 record, and finished 4-5 overall, falling to eventual 5A state runner-up Bishop Carroll.
After beating Hays in the opening game of district play, Great Bend lost Reed (torn anterior cruciate ligament) and inside receiver Logan Buehler (ankle) during a road loss to Salina Central.
But the Panthers won the district championship outright after throttling Salina South, 42-21, and Hays knocked off Central, 21-14.
Hildebrand had “one of the best single-game performances I’ve seen from an individual,” said Great Bend head coach Bo Black after the 6-foot-2, 186-pounder riddled South with 17-for-24 passing for 255 yards and also rushing for 100 yards in 18 carries.
Great Bend’s season ended at the hands of Carroll, 49-13, a playoff game where Hildebrand threw three interceptions.
But then again, the Panthers wouldn’t have made it as far as they did without him.
• Familiar names
For the West, Hildebrand is playing alongside several opponents he faced during his Great Bend career, including running back Dreamius Smith (Heights), defensive end Beau Bell (Carroll), lineman Jesse Trent (Dodge City), running back Casey Sedbrook (Hays), linebacker Keith Curran (Garden City), wide receiver Jade Cathey (Liberal) and defensive end Keith McGaha (Salina South). One of the state’s top players, Gardner-Edgerton quarterback Bubba Starling, who also was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 2011 Major League Baseball draft, has already enrolled at the University of Nebraska to play football for the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten Conference.
• Eye-opening experience
All Shrine Bowl events are produced and presented to benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children [SHC]. SHC is a health care system of 22 hospitals, dedicated to improving the lives of children by providing pediatric specialty care, innovative research, and outstanding teaching programs for medical professionals. Children up to the age of 18 are eligible for care and receive all services in a family-centered environment, regardless of the patients’ ability to pay.
“They brought kids from the Shriners Hospitals to camp on Saturday and that really opened my eyes about what this game is all about,” Hildebrand said. “We’re really playing to raise money for the Shriners Hospitals. We’re not just playing for us.
“We’re playing for them. We had activities all day with them on Saturday. It just makes you happy that you’re playing for a good cause.”
Tickets and additional information are available at www.ksshrine.com or by calling (800) 530-5524. You can also find complete East-West rosters on the web site.