The Rogue Valley will be well-represented Saturday in the 67th Les Schwab Bowl, making it that much more special for local football players on the South team as they prepare to face the North squad at Hillsboro Stadium.

The Rogue Valley will be well-represented Saturday in the 67th Les Schwab Bowl, making it that much more special for local football players on the South team as they prepare to face the North squad at Hillsboro Stadium.

Nine of the 37 players invited to the annual meeting of the top graduating seniors from the Class 6A and 5A levels hail from southern Oregon and, according to North Medford's Eugene Ellis, all seem to be taking the same mindset into the contest.

"We're all competitive and we're all looking to closing the gap in this series against the North," Ellis said during a break in action Thursday. "We've been working pretty hard for that."

The North holds a 32-30 advantage in the series, which includes four ties, and is coming off a 21-14 win in 2013.

Along with Ellis, southern Oregon players invited to participate in the Les Schwab Bowl include Ashland's Danial White (quarterback), Mason Montgomery (linebacker) and Matt Hedges (kicker), Crater's Kory Bennett (receiver) and Davey McCollum (defensive back), Eagle Point's Jorge Quintero (defensive back), North Medford's Hunter Hermanson (lineman) and South Medford's Anthony Gomez (linebacker).

Although invited, McCollum will not be able to participate.

Assistant coaches for the South team include Ashland's Charlie Hall and North Medford's Mike Mitchell, with Silverton's John Mannion serving as head coach.

"It's just a great experience and an honor and a blessing to be up here and to be part of this group, getting your name recognized for the great season you had," added Ellis.

Ellis and company arrived Monday in Forest Grove, where players are stationed in the dormitories at Pacific University. They've spent this week in daily doubles to prepare for Saturday's game at 1:30 p.m., and Ellis said by now all are pretty sore after donning the pads again for the first time in several months.

"It's been a pretty good grind," he said.

Ellis caught 27 passes for 396 yards and five touchdowns this past season for the Black Tornado and will line up in his familiar outside receiver (X receiver) position this weekend. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior has committed to play football at Santa Rosa Junior College in the fall.

"The routes are similar to what I ran at North so it's all come easy to me being up here and been very comfortable," said Ellis. "It's just been more about getting back to the football grind and putting those extra pads on you and running around. I've been staying in shape but throwing those pads on you is a different feel."

It's also been a little different playing with so many new faces, even if there is some familiarity in name being from the same area. Ellis said that's one spot the North team holds an advantage, with most of the players on that team having played with and against each other for years at the same classification.

Overall, Ellis said he's mostly been impressed by the level of talent among the players for both teams, as well as their welcoming nature.

"Everybody up here is really talented," he said. "I was surprised, actually, because I thought everyone coming up here was going to be cocky but we've all come together as a team and I think we're all trying to have fun and make the most of this experience and beat this North team."

The South already has one victory under its belt over the North, albeit off the field, after winning Wednesday's wing-eating contest at Buffalo Wild Wings. Players from each team competed in four rounds of wing-eating racing to finish six "Blazin" wings first. The "Blazin" wings are the hottest available at the restaurant, which warns patrons to "keep away from your eyes, pets, children."

Gomez was one of the five South players chosen to participate, and the Panther standout didn't let his team down. The teams split the first two rounds and, after the third round was called a draw, the South earned the wing eating contest champion when Gomez narrowly edged Jesuit's Charlie Landgraf in the final round.

"He was slow on the first three but everything just clicked in and he got it done in the end," Ellis said.

That competition followed a trip to the movies on Tuesday, with a bowling competition set for Thursday night and a trip to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in store for Friday prior to a team banquet.

While Ellis didn't necessarily want to single out any of the Les Schwab Bowl players, he did offer that Tigard fullback/linebacker A.J. Hotchkins has been particularly impressive on the South side and, similarly, Central Catholic running back Ryan Nall has shown a unique blend of speed and physicality for the North.

"Our linebackers have also been impressive with Anthony and Mason," added Ellis. "Mason's tough and he hits hard, too, and Anthony is quick and is another big hitter."

While the challenge will be steep on Saturday, Ellis said he's confident his South squad can come out on top.

"If we all rally together and work hard, I think anything's possible," he said. "I mean remember Sheldon-North? Anything's possible."

That 21-17 win by the Black Tornado allowed North Medford to gain its first Southwest Conference championship, and is a memory that Ellis said won't soon go away.

"I'm always going to remember that," he said in wry fashion. "You can never forget beating Sheldon."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488,, or