MARQUETTE - Organizing the movements of 11 football players can be hard enough with weeks of practice.
With a few days, it might be chaos, but with the U.P.'s best of the best at Northern Michigan University this week for the sixth annual U.P. Football All-Star Game, the short-term adjustment has gone fairly well for local members of the West team.
Ewen-Trout Creek's Logan Maki has been playing eight-man for two seasons with the Panthers but being the son of a coach (E-TC boss Larry), he still knows his way around the 11-man set-up.
Calumet’s Owen Kariniemi fields a punt in a Week 1 game against Northland Pines (Wis.). last August. Kariniemi is one of nine local players scheduled to participate in today’s sixth annual U.P. Football?All-Star Game in Marquette. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"It's pretty much been the same. I grew up around 11-man, too, so it's not that big of a change," he said.
This year's West head coach is Joe Reddinger of North Dickinson, so none of the nine locals on this year's squad can claim much experience with his system.
However, Owen Kariniemi of Calumet said the basics of good defense are universal.
"For defense, it's not quite as much as the offensive teamit's basically covering guys and fundamental football," he said.
Kariniemi has spent much of his time in this week's practices at defensive back. He is one of four Copper Kings on the West roster (Anders Bjorn, Kyle Larson, Clark Kangas).
The other five local players are spread out, one from a school: Hancock's Ross Michaels, Lake Linden-Hubbell's Alex Knight, L'Anse's Cody Goldsworthy, Ontonagon's Seth Rowles, and Maki from E-TC.
The adjustment from teammates to rivals is something every All-Star goes through, as well as the adjustment to live hitting for the first time in eight months.
"It's really refreshing, actually, to clear your head out a couple times. Clark Kangas laid a pretty nasty hit on me the first time. It's a nice wake-up call," Michaels said.
It's been more than just work for the All-Stars, who have taken part in skills challenges and visited Bay Cliff Health Camp, a summer camp for children with disabilities, Thursday.
"That was definitely, probably going to be the highlight of the week for me," Michaels said about the Bay Cliff trip. "It was such a great experience, humbling, to play with the kids, hang out with them, throw the football no matter how the game goes with that, it really made my week."
Michaels and Goldsworthy have been recruited to play at Michigan Tech, but for many other All-Stars Saturday's game at 3 p.m., inside the Superior Dome, is the last chance they'll have to put on pads for real.
"It's been pretty nice putting the pads back on one last time. It's been nice to get to know some of these guys who were former competitors," Kariniemi said. "If we win, that's bonus."