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All-star selections present challenge

Prep Notebook

So selecting players for a high school all-star football game is simply a matter of picking the best available kids at each position?

Not exactly.

Building the perfect all-star beast is an imperfect science.

College recruiters and professional drafters have their own set of foibles.

Putting together a 36-man roster for the Oregon Bowl is guaranteed to cause heartburn.

In these types of games you have so many rules and things you have to take into account, says Ashland coach Jim Nagel, who will guide the South squad in the July 17 Oregon Bowl at Civic Stadium in Portland.

You need to represent 22 schools and try to spread things around. You can't pick more than four players from your team as head coach and you can't pick more than three from an assistant coach's school.

Players are nominated by their coaches, but nominations don't always match up with need. Running backs tend to get a lot of ink and highlight footage during the season. They also tend to be the most plenteous of nominees for all-star games.

It really becomes tough, but running backs are where you can usually spread things around, Nagel says.

But are the nominated backs good blockers? Can they catch a pass?

That's one of the things you just don't know, Nagel says.

While most coaches think they've got a running back worthy of an all-star game, very few think about sending their centers.

In my six or seven years doing this, Nagel says. I haven't had but 12 to 15 centers nominated. There are usually one or two nominated and about 20 running backs. If I'm a coach with a pretty good center, I'm certainly going to nominate him.

Predictably, you can't make everybody happy.

You try to spread things around as much as you can, but sometimes you feel guilty because there aren't enough schools represented in some leagues, Nagel says. That's when you count on your colleagues to go back and tell the coaches in their league `Look guys, there were other quality kids and we just didn't get ours in.'

Nagel found himself scrambling prior to the 1998 Oregon Bowl. McNary's Tom Smythe, whose Celtics had defeated Beaverton for the Class 4A state title, 51-48, was the South team's head coach. But Smythe also coaches a team in Europe during the spring and didn't return in time for the all-star game.

Tom had put together a team based on his offense, Nagel recalls. The spread offense he uses doesn't use tight ends. I had to convert that roster into something resembling our own offense. We balanced things out and did fine.

Although Nagel has a pretty good handle on the SOC players, he says he has depended on input from his assistants on players from the Intermountain Conference and Midwestern and Valley leagues.

Because of the way the playoffs worked last year, I know some of the kids on the other teams better than ours, Nagel says. I know the kids from Churchill and one or two of the McKay kids.

Eleven of the South players come from the Southern Oregon Conference: Ashland's Ryan Schorovsky, Roger Walsh, Austin Mason and Jimmy Werbin; Roseburg's Buck Forest, ron Rinaker and Dustin Michalek; Crater's Brad Ralph and Mike Jacobs; Eagle Point's Sean Johnston; and North Medford's Brian Backstrom. The Black Tornado's Jesse Gelsinger was named to the team but will miss the game because of an injury.

HELPING HAND -- Nagel has been one of state's most successful coaches the past decade, winning three championships and gaining two other finals.

In that span the Grizzlies have won more playoff games than the entire Portland Interscholastic League combined.

Greg Ross, who oversees the 10 PIL schools' athletic programs, invited Nagel to meet for a half day with his football coaches and athletic directors.

I came away feeling better about our athletic budgets, Nagel says. We've got it made in comparison with them. So much of their budget is dependent on fund raising, even for basic equipment.

Another struggle the PIL coaches face is getting the best athletes in the school to play football.

They always have some darn-good athletes, Nagel says. Every year in the (Oregon Bowl) game, somebody you've never heard of does a great job and really shines.

Their problem is that basketball is real strong and so is baseball. The real good athletes play basketball first and football is a distant second or even third.

(Greg Stiles is a Mail Tribune sports writer. He can be reached at 776-4483.)