The Kansas Shrine Bowl game tonight in Pittsburg might mean a little more to West team running back Jorden Oden than to most other athletes in the game.
The game will count as Oden's first full-contact football game since he suffered a broken collarbone in Buhler's win over Rose Hill in the Class 4A quarterfinals in November. For Oden, the week-long camp leading up to tonight's game has been a blast.
"It's amazing," Oden said. "At the beginning I was kind of worried about hurting it again, but after that first practice it felt pretty good. I haven't had a problem with it. No soreness or anything."
Oden finally feels like he's back where he belongs — part of a football team in the huddle and not on the sidelines offering advice to teammates. He gained 2,559 yards and led Buhler to an 11-1 record and its first state semifinal berth since 1990 before going down. He watched his team lose to the eventual state champion Topeka Hayden.
"He was very frustrated to be injured at that point in time during the season, but he handled it very well," Buhler coach Steve Warner said. "He still continued to be a great leader for our football team and an inspirational leader for the entire week leading up to the game at Hayden."
Oden's injury forced him into the role of coach earlier than expected, but he said the experience made him grow up a little bit, too. He learned how to a be leader without carrying the football.
"It was pretty tough," Oden said. "I felt like I was letting the guys down, but in the end I was there for them. I was pretty much just another coach. That's when my senior leadership really started coming out."
Warner knew that Oden had it in him. Oden led by example in the weight room — taking the time to lift weights five days a week during the summer before his senior season. His leadership and work ethic rubbed off on others. This is why Warner thinks Oden will do just fine playing at Bethel College.
"He did everything he could for our team despite being injured," Warner said. "It hurt him a lot to sit on the sidelines and then watch us lose the game. He put his whole heart and soul into the football program so I know it was very hard for him."
The week in pads has helped Oden put the injury behind him. He's taken in the full experience of the Shrine Bowl.
"Some of these kids I've actually played against," Oden said. "You wouldn't think we'd become friends or anything, and you end up hanging out with them. It's pretty cool."
Kansas Shrine Bowl
What: 37th Annual All—Star Football Game
When: 7 p.m. tonight
Where: Carnie Smith Stadium, Pittsburg
TV: Kansas 22 (Cox)
Troy Albright, Galena; Brandon Barnes, Oskaloosa; Matt Bollig, Chanute; Matt Buhler, Rossville; Michael Bullard, Oswego; Tank Burns, Columbus; Chris Fields, Olathe East; Tyler Glatczak, Centralia; Brad Gourley, Olathe South; Brannon Green, Labette Co.; Nathan Haug, Baileyville; Jase Hubert, Olpe; Sam Johnson, Topeka; Cale Karigan, Paola; Regan Kays, Pittsburg Colgan; Mark Kolmer, Emporia; Adam LeBlanc, SM West; Michael Lisher, Lawrence Free State; Ben Malotte, Marysville; Cameron McLain, Gardner-Edgerton; Sean McLerran, Blue Valley North; Ryan Mueller, St. Thomas Aquinas; Luke Olsen, St. Marys; Jason Peete, Olathe North; Dallas Shalz, Bishop Ward; Neil Shortell, Bishop Miege; Micah Smith, Colony-Crest; Keenan Soles, Pittsburg; Kyler Thompson, Iola; Jordan Tice, Osage City; Matt Tyree, Riverton; Spencer Vanderbogart, Seaman; Andrew Voegeli, Hayden; Taylor Wallace, Schlagle; Jace Warren, Pleasant Ridge.
Bill Arnold (head coach), Hayden; Mike Zegunis, Blue Valley Northwest; Mike Thomas, St. Thomas Aquinas; Dan Grundy, Columbus; Beau Sarwinski, Galena; Larry Glatczak, Centralia.
Lucas Allen, Salina Central; Mitch Bean, Garden City; Jay Cotter, Goodland; Jake Craig, Lyons; Jason Elzinga, Junction City; Matt Erbert, Ellis; Dominic Farinas, Wichita North; BJ Finney, Andale; Jorden Funk, Scott City; Caleb Gifford, Hugoton; Landon Head, Dodge City; Jacob Ingham, Quivira Heights; Ethan Jirak, Oakley; Miguel Johns, Newton; Meshach Kennedy, Derby; Seth Klausmeyer, Garden Plain; Brett LeMaster, Wichita Collegiate; John McClure, Wichita Heights; John Mies, Bishop Carroll; Jorden Oden, Buhler; Travis Pfannenstiel, Hays; Trevin Pfanenstiel, Meade; Joel Piper, McPherson; Trent Raile, St. Francis; Tyler Richards, Rose Hill; Demarcus Robinson, Wichita Northwest; Colt Rogers, Smith Center; Jason Seibel, Salina South; Curry Sexton, Abilene; Josh Smith, Hutchinson; L.J. Tillman, Wichita Southwest; Tate Snyder, Manhattan; Jonathan Truman, Kapaun Mount Carmel; Chad Wollenberg, Hesston.
Randall Zimmerman (head coach), Junction City; Rick Wheeler, Wichita Heights; Same Sellers, Salina South; Clint Merritt, Hugoton; Bill Messamore, Wichita Collegiate; Randall Rath, Oakley.