DURANT and WEST LIBERTY, Iowa–For over 30 years, the Blue-Grey All American Bowls have given high school football players from across the country the opportunity to showcase their skills and give them one more impressive piece to add to their college and scholarship applications. This December, two Muscatine County football players, Drake Collins from West Liberty and Nolan DeLong from Durant, played in the Blue-Grey Bowl, a once in a lifetime experience that will further both of their football careers.
A football player since first grade, and a linebacker for West Liberty High School, Drake has always enjoyed the fast-paced and competitive environment football provides, as well as the opportunity to work with his teammates to find success. In his four years of varsity football, Drake has taken pride in his team’s playoff record and the recognition he received in his senior season. He said, “definitely making it into the playoffs all four years has been a highlight and being defensive MVP of the year was huge.”
Nolan started playing football in second grade and has never looked back since. “Ever since I started, I just fell in love with it,” he shared. A running back and linebacker for Durant Junior-Senior High School, Nolan has seen his team’s fortunes turn, helping them to beat longtime rival Wilton for the first time in many years in his first season, beating them twice more in following years, and helping the team to have a winning record more years than not. He delighted in the fact that, “my class and the class above me started to change the culture.”
From Dec. 17-19, both players visited Dallas, Texas to prepare for and play in the bowl. On the first day, players got to meet the other members of their team, started practicing, and got the gear they would need for the game. Practices continued on the second day, and players also got to participate in a jersey ceremony, where they received their game jerseys and have photos and video taken of them with the coaches. “It was kind of like the NFL draft,” Drake explained. You go up on stage and show your jersey.”
Finally, on Dec. 19, the East and West Teams faced off in a bowl-style game, with players rotating in and out frequently so that everyone got opportunities to show their talents on the field. Though the East Team, which both Drake and Nolan played on, fell to the West Team 20-13, both players felt the did well and learned a lot from the experience. “Whenever I was in, I feel like I played well–it was a very competitive game,” recalled Drake.
“To be there and play with some of the best in the nation helps the view and understand how play will be at the next level,” reflected Nolan, who also earned the honor of East Team Most Valuable Player.
Though high school football has ended for the year, both Nolan and Drake have their sights set on playing at the college level. Nolan has received five scholarship offers and will decide by February where to attend. Off the field, he plans to study exercise science so that he can one day open his own gym and offer coaching to young athletes. Drake also has several schools to decide from this winter. He plans to study business and to eventually own his own small business.