When recent Free State High graduate Tye Hughes played football for Firebirds coach Bob Lisher, the two developed a friendly relationship that often had them joking back and forth during the less intense moments of practice.
The two have been back at it this week, as members of the East all-star team, in preparation for the Kansas Shrine Bowl — kickoff at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Washburn University’s Yager Stadium, in Topeka.
“If I miss a ball or miss a catch or anything, I’ll be hearing a lot from him,” receiver Hughes said of the East’s offensive line coach.
Lisher said they had more fun this week than they could during FSHS practices, which took on a far more serious tone. Even if Hughes is mistake-free on a Shrine Bowl practice down, his high school coach might have something to share, serious or not.
“He gets to hear from me every play,” Lisher said.
Hughes expects to play a part in plenty of offensive reps against the West defense Saturday, too, as a slot receiver who will sometimes line up in the backfield. The 2013 Free State graduate will be the only player manning that position. He had planned on sharing the spot with Shawnee Mission West product Brett Sterbach, but Hughes said Sterbach suffered an injury that will take him out of the mix.
A first-team All-Sunflower League receiver and punt returner in his senior year, Hughes hopes to make an impact by catching some passes and picking up some blocks.
“That’s the hard part of receiving,” he added.
The East began preparing for the all-star game on July 19 in Emporia, and Lisher said Hughes learned a lot of routes in practices since then because he will be aligned all over the field.
“Tye can handle anything and everything you can throw at him,” Lisher told East head coach Jason Swift and the rest of the staff.
That load will include kickoff and punt returns, as well as special teams coverage. While most players have gone through two-a-days at practices, Hughes and other special teamers have attended three sessions daily. Hughes hopes it will prepare him for this fall, when he’ll be playing for Baker University.
“It’s been fun. Hard, but fun,” Hughes said of the preparation. “We’re used to it. We’re all football players.”
Hughes will be the city’s only representative at the Shrine Bowl. Although Lawrence High quarterback Brad Strauss was selected for the East team, he opted not to play in order to focus on his upcoming freshman season at Northwest Missouri State. The idea of teaming up with his former rival had excited Hughes.
“It would be different but he’s a really good quarterback,” Hughes said, “and would’ve helped us out a lot.”
The East will have the services of four other area all-stars. Baldwin’s Dayton Valentine will line up at tight end, Eudora’s Nick Becker is playing defensive end, McLouth’s Marc Walbridge is slated to play safety and quarterback and Mill Valley’s Staton Rebeck joins Hughes as a receiver.
The West has won the last seven Shrine Bowls, but Hughes said the East players hope to use the slump as extra motivation.
“We’ve talked a lot about that,” he said. “We really want to be the team that starts a streak for the East.”