Lee County's Ferguson called up to N.C. all-star team

77th Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas to be played Saturday in Spartanburg
Dec. 18, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Lee County head coach Burton Cates will be coaching North Carolina, along with one of his own Yellow Jackets, in Saturday afternoon's Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas - the oldest state vs. state high school all-star game.

On Saturday, Lee County's Thomas Ferguson got the call to join the North Carolina all-star team. The two teams gathered in Spartanburg Saturday, had official Shrine Bowl events Sunday and started two-a-day practices on Monday to become true teams as much as possible in less than a week.

Ferguson, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound defensive end and a three-time all-conference member, twice in the Tri-Nine and this year in the Cape Fear Valley, was promoted from alternate to on the roster due to another player's family matter, said Cates. Ferguson nearly made the all-star team back in the spring.

"He had a really good combine," Cates said. "and our defensive line coach was very high on him."

"He's always one of our leaders on defense. The teams we played ran away from him most of the time and that was out of respect for what Thomas can do," he said.

The 40 all-stars from both states, with some of the North Carolina players having just played state championship games on Friday and Saturday, visited the Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville, S.C. on Sunday.

Last year's Shrine Bowl raised more than $1 million for the Greenville hospital and 21 more Shriners hospitals for children nationally. Since the first Shrine Bowl in 1937, more than $90 million has been raised.

The young football players visiting the young patients "put smiles on the faces" of both groups of kids said Cates.

It showed everyone involved why the game is truly important, and put the game in perspective, Cates said.

"This really is a big event down here. The community really reaches out to the Shriners," he said.

Now at the end of a long, grinding season - with up to 18 scrimmages, games and playoff games for some of the players - practice started Monday morning for two hours and in the afternoon for two hours.

"We're trying to keep it as simple as possible," Cates said.

"We brought in 40 really outstanding players and outstanding people, which is something we took into our evaluation," he said.

There's been "a little work," Cates says, throughout the last 10 months since he was named head coach, with the assistant coaches putting in incredible amounts of work, he said. It's only right and normal for each coach to be fully focused on their schools from July until November or December.

The all-star teams will get eight or nine practices in before the bowl game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gibbs Stadium, home to Wofford University football.

With the effort already put in, the tradition of the game, the border rivalry and what it means for the all-stars playing in their last high school games, there's more competition in the Shrine Bowl than, say, a typical pro level all-star game. South Carolina beat North Carolina, 23-19, last December.

A few minutes before getting back on the practice field for Tuesday's second session, Cates said the year as the North Carolina head coach has been fun and the week is exciting, yet, "it'll feel a lot better on Saturday afternoon if we can get a win."