There’s no getting around the fact that Thursday night’s Charlie Wedemeyer High School All-Star Game is an exhibition, yet that doesn’t mean the football players and coaches are taking it lightly.
“The coaches remind us to have fun, but winning comes first,” Mountain View High safety/halfback Danny Olsen said. “At the end of the day, we’re competitors.”
Olsen is one of four locals playing for the North in the 45th edition of the game, a showcase for Santa Clara County’s top graduated seniors. Joining him are two players from rival Los Altos High – linebacker Miguel Tepepa and offensive/defensive lineman Tyler St. Laurent – along with St. Francis High offensive lineman Matthew Azzopardi.
While there’s only pride on the line for the participants, expect many of them to play like there’s a championship at stake.
“I’m going to try to go all out,” Tepepa said. “This is my last game.”
That’s because Tepepa is bound for UC Merced, which doesn’t have a football program. Neither does Sonoma State, where Olsen is headed.
“This is my last hurrah,” Olsen said. “I’ve been looking forward to this all summer.”
The North and South squads began practicing July 6, each allotted 10 sessions to prepare for the game. Santa Clara High coach Burt Codera, who played in the 2004 game representing Westmont High, leads the North.
“He’s a great guy and a great coach,” Olsen said last week. “The whole (Santa Clara) coaching staff has been great so far.”
“The coaches are really cool,” he said. “The defensive coach (Fred Stewart) is funny and really enthusiastic about the game, but he’s serious, too.”
Olsen noted that the coaches have a lot to work with, describing the squad as “the best group of talent I’ve ever been around.” The North is littered with all-leaguers, including several who plan to play college football.
“It’s a pretty good group of talent; we don’t really have any weaknesses,” said Tepepa, an SCVAL El Camino Division First Team selection last fall. “Our running back from Independence (Dylan Oliver) is pretty solid.”
Tepepa added that the players have “bonded pretty fast,” which should only improve the team’s chances of beating the South.
For Olsen, that’s the primary goal.
“First and foremost, I want to win,” he said. “Personally, I’d like to make an impact by making an interception or a big tackle – something that helps the team win.”
Tepepa, who is expected to see plenty of action alongside Olsen on defense, is eager to make a positive impression as well.
“I want to show that I can play my position against anybody and that I’m not afraid to hit,” he said.
Tepepa attended last year’s game at Los Gatos High and said he has “lots of family and a ton of friends” coming to Thursday’s contest at Westmont.
Olsen, who has never been to the game before, also expects to have plenty of supporters in the stands.
“I can’t wait,” he said. “It should be a lot of fun.”
This year’s game has not only changed locations, but also leadership. The Rotary Club of Almaden Valley is no longer involved because of a disagreement with the game’s other organizers over the direction of the game – and its proceeds – according to Jim Guido, former chairman of the event who is part of the new leadership team.
“Our goals are different than their goals,” he said. “There are no hard feelings.”
He added that the proceeds will benefit the ALS Association and Coaches Against Cancer. The game’s namesake, longtime Los Gatos coach Charlie Wedemeyer, was diagnosed with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease 32 years before his death in 2010.
Thursday’s game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. at Westmont, 4805 Westmont Ave., Campbell. Tickets will be sold at the gate.
For more information, visit santaclaraallstar.com.