ST. PETERSBURG — On Saturday, the 94th annual East-West Shrine Game brought together 117 college football players from 82 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. But for a handful of players in particular, the all-star game was a reunion, of sorts.
Three Plant alumni — Texas TE Andrew Beck, USF DB Mazzi Wilkins and Kentucky DB Derrick Baity, Jr. — played in the game at Tropicana Field, with proud Plant coach Robert Weiner looking on from the stands. The three were the most from any single high school represented in Saturday’s game. Beck and Wilkins played for the winning West team, while Baity suited up for the East side.
For Beck, a fifth-year Longhorn who hadn’t seen his fellow Panthers since his days at Plant, the game was more than just an opportunity to strap on the pads one last time as a college player.
“We all went off to different conferences and things like that, and being from out of state, we don’t really run into each other that much,” Beck said. “It was kind of cool to see them for the first time since high school.”
Beck — who recently caught national attention for his use of American Sign Language with a hearing-impaired family on a bowl trip — made two receptions for 11 yards in the game, showing off a skill that has become a staple in his game since he last played before a hometown crowd.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior was primarily a linebacker at Plant and was recruited as such by the Longhorns, but in 2015, he played in all 12 Texas games at tight end. He finished his college career with 40 receptions for 440 yards.
He was pleased to add a couple more to his career stat line Saturday, especially with familiar faces cheering him on.
“When I got a chance to come home and play I was like, ‘Yes, I’m going to take that opportunity,’” said Wilkins, who had one tackle, assisted on two, and added an interception in the third quarter. He has been preparing for the NFL draft in Minnesota. “It felt great just to make plays and come out here and play in front of my high school coaches and friends and family.”
Watson’s triumphant return
In addition to the Panther trio, other former Tampa Bay area players were scattered across the rosters, including Auburn WR Ryan Davis (Lakewood), Miami OL Tyree St. Louis (IMG Academy and Tampa Bay Tech) and Maryland LB Tre Watson (Tampa Bay Tech), all of whom played for the East team.
Watson, who was first-team All-Big Ten in his first season with the Terrapins in 2018, finished the Shrine Game with a team-leading nine tackles. He also recorded a sack for a loss of 12 yards. Each time his name was called over the public address system, a loud roar came from the East end zone, where a group of his family and friends filled the stands.
“I came full circle, really. It was a great start to my career in high school and youth football, and I had a great finish today,” Watson said. “I requested over 150 tickets. … I’m thankful for them, and they get to share this moment with me.”
New to the spotlight
Five schools were represented for the first time in Saturday’s Shrine game, but none, perhaps, were as unrecognizable as Colorado School of Mines. WR Brody Oliver is used to explaining where he comes from.
“(People ask) all the time,” said Oliver, who is a metallurgical and materials engineering major at the school. “It’s one of the top engineering schools in the nation. I was blessed to go there, and pretty much everyone that comes out of there is going to be pretty successful.”
Colorado School of Mines, which is located in the Denver suburb of Golden, Colo., is a Division II school that specializes in engineering, particularly of the mineral and mining variety.
Oliver, though, wasn’t the only player from a non-traditional football school who had a chance to shine Saturday.
There were two players from Canada — Calgary DL Joel Van Pelt and Laval (Quebec) DL Mathieu Betts — who appeared in the game, and University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) OL Trey Pipkins joined Oliver in representing the Division II ranks.
“It’s a lot of fun to get out here and show you can compete with all these big-school guys,” Oliver said.
This and that
The West team won 21-17, throwing for two scores and rushing for one more. The East side scored both its touchdowns in the third quarter on passes from Purdue QB David Blough to Georgia WR Terry Godwin II. … Boise State QB Brett Rypien completed 10 of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown for the West team. He’s the nephew of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, who won two Super Bowls and earned one Super Bowl MVP distinction during his career. … The University of Mississippi had the biggest representation Saturday with four players. Stanford, which had one player on the roster, still has the most players in Shrine Game history with 154.