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GREENSBORO — While the extent of most fan involvement and knowledge at the North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All-Star Football Game boils down to the 48 minutes of play inside Grimsley High’s Jamieson Stadium, there’s more to that for the players and coaches that have populated the East and West rosters for the last 70 years.
For the coaches, it’s a chance to be recognized by peers on an elevated stage and develop relationships over the course of those days and practices leading up to the contest. The players receive one more chance to play in a high school football game against some of the better graduating seniors in the state and partake in pre-game activities that reflect their all-star status.
It’s an honor to be selected for either assignment, and the 48-minute stage at the end of NCCA All-Star Week has the ability to make players shine before, in all likelihood, heading off to a collegiate destination. What happens in between the lines at Jamieson Stadium can also yield a humbling experience.
Twin Fike High kickers Walker and John Gliarmis were subjected to the latter as members of the East team Wednesday night. Playing in the contest alongside recent Southern Nash graduate Abe Rodriguez, the twins, who have enrolled at Appalachian State University as invited walk-ons, had their struggles in one final high school experience that amounted to a 23-21 victory for the West.
Walker Gliarmis saw most of the action thanks to an East offense that had its issues moving the football, particularly in the first half. He booted his first kickoff of the game into the end zone for a touchback and connected on the final extra point for the East.
But beyond that, Walker Gliarmis offered up a performance that he wasn’t shy in calling “mediocre.”
He had seven punts for an average of 29.1 yards, including a long of 42. Five of those punts came in the first half as the East owned a 7-3 lead.
However, a touchdown advantage was denied the East on the final play of the half when Walker Gliarmis sprayed a 27-yard field goal wide to the left. With the West receiving the second-half kickoff, Walker Gliarmis kicked it out of bounds, granting the West possession at the 35.
“It was a great week-long experience to meet these new guys and even some future teammates,” Walker said. “On the football field and playing wise, I felt like I couldn’t get back in that groove that I was in during the (high school) season, which is a sign that I need to probably need to get back in the groove of things before our home opener (Sept. 15) against Southern Miss.”
John Gliarmis made both of his extra points and authored a second-half kickoff that landed short of the end zone at the 2-yard line. But with the East closing to within 23-21 with 15 seconds to play, John was sent out to attempt a desperation onside kick.
After the West called a timeout to check the East’s alignment, John Gliarmis approached the ball with the intent of hitting it along the ground for a potential East recovery. However, it did anything but, remaining in the air and promptly carrying out of bounds — 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. The West took over and finished the game with one kneeldown.
“I just didn’t hit it right,” John said. “That was all on me, and that could have been better as well. But overall, a pretty good night.”
As was the case during their high school careers under Tom Nelson, East coaches left it to the twins to determine how they would split the kicking duties.
TIME TO EXPERIMENT
As they indicated before the game, the twins used the all-star contest to practice kicking without the use of a tee on extra points and field goals in a game situation for the first time. Such assistance is legal in the high school ranks, but on the fall Saturdays to come, the holder must position the football on the ground. It didn’t pose a problem on extra points, but the Walker Gliarmis 27-yard attempt to end the first half — his first ever game attempt off the ground — promptly hooked left and stayed there. The miss loomed large in the East’s two-point defeat.
“I just hit it awful,” Walker admitted. “I just did not hit it good at all. It was a good try; it was my first field goal ever off the ground. So I can give myself some credit, but that was just on me. I don’t blame anybody else.”
John’s experience without a tee was limited to his pair of successful extra points.
“I thought it was good since I’m going to be kicking off the ground in college, it’s going to get me ready for that instead of being surprised while I’m at App,” John Gliarmis said. “I feel like there’s some things to work on, but overall, I think I’m going in the right direction.”
The twins, who are expected to redshirt their freshman year at Appalachian State, anticipate being used on kickoffs and field-goal attempts once getting onto the field in Boone.
However, recent NCAA legislation allows for redshirts to play in four games without a loss of a year of eligibility, giving Walker and John Gliarmis the chance at early playing time.
Inconsistency plagued Walker Gliarmis in his exhaustive punting duties. He had three efforts of 40 yards or more, but between bad snaps, the desire to try rugby punting and a flat-out flub on his first effort, his night broke down as such: 12, 42, 18, 16, 40, 34 and 42. The sub-20 yard punts sent his average under 30 yards.
“Overall with the punting, I’d probably give it mediocre,” Walker assessed. “The three punts I hit, I was very proud of myself, but the other ones, I was very disappointed with my performance in that, just with the recoveries.”
With Lee County linebacker Keaton Forbes as the long snapper — a role he could reprise as a Gliarmis teammate at Appalachian State — Walker had a 12-yard punt before launching a 42-yarder that forced a fair catch. However, trying to rugby punt at times came with difficulty as tough snaps and drops helped put Walker in a bad position on his third and fourth attempts.
“I was doing a rugby punt today just to try to drive it down the field. I had a few bad drops on the rugby, and it’s a risky punt. It worked out sometimes, and sometimes it didn’t. I was proud of about half of the punts.”
After his fourth attempt, Walker abandoned the rugby style in a game situation and finished wth efforts of 40, 34 and 42 yards on his final three punts.
“High school wise, I did pretty well,” Walker said of his punting prowess. “But I would probably be a little less than average at the college level, especially at Appalachian State, at this point."
LOVE OF THE GAME
Entering the East-West game, Rodriguez, a late add to the roster from Southern Nash, had seen action on both sides of the line for the Firebirds. He’ll reprise that at a junior college in Lackawanna (Pennsylvania) College, but the East coaches saw a better chance for Rodriguez to contribute as their nose tackle. East-West rules require the use of an odd-man front, leaving someone to perform the inglorious role of eating up blocks and allowing teammates to flow to the football.
“I played really good,” Rodriguez said. “I came to represent my school, my family and myself. I do everything for a purpose. I love to play football all the time, and I keep it in my heart. I hope that everybody sees that I did really good on the field, but I went out with a bang. I do it for the love of the game.”
Rodriguez was rotated in and out for the duration of drives, finishing with a pair of tackle assists. He was credited with half a tackle for loss behind the line of scrimmage. Indeed, Rodriguez had his moments pushing the pocket, flushing West passers and contributing to a third-quarter holding call by pushing blockers back into the face of West quarterback Malik Sarratt of Shelby.
“Football is my life,” Rodriguez said. “If it wasn’t for football, I wouldn’t be here right now. But I love everyone on this team and what they did for me.”
ODDS AND ENDS
The East took a 14-3 lead with 8:07 left in the third quarter on Josh Jones’ 44-yard scoring strike to Chris Coleman. But the West responded with 20 straight points, including a 4-yard fumble return for a score by Cody Hendrix that gave the West a 17-14 lead. McKinley Nelson sacked Jones on the play, who fumbled into the arms of Hendrix.
Attempting to rally late, the East marched 93 yards in seven plays, ending with Havelock’s Zack Sabdo firing a 15-yard TD pass to Jacksonville’s Chris Coleman. The Walker Gliarmis PAT accounted for the final margin before the failed onside kick from John Gliarmis.
Tykel Landrum of Hendersonville was named the game’s Offensive Most Valuable Player, hauling in five receptions for 97 yards. That included a 57-yard catch and run to provide the West with a two-score margin with 6:29 to go.
Tate Beaver of Newton Fred T. Foard was the Defensive MVP for the West, logging eight tackles and recording a sack. Four stops came behind the line of scrimmage.
The West leads the series 39-29, with two ties in breaking a three-year winning streak for the East. The West had not won the East-West game since 2013, with the 2014 installment ending in a 10-10 tie. Southern Nash coach Brian Foster was the East head coach that year.