Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 01 August 2007 08:36
The West defense held the East to 179 yards for the game—and only 75 yards in the second half, as the West took charge in the final two quarters after escaping with a 10-7 halftime lead on a last-second field goal.
“I was pretty nervous before the game, but the first time you get hit pretty hard you wake up and realize you better get moving,” Hamm said. “Otherwise, it’s going to happen all game.”
The Trojan unanimous all-league selection said he wasn’t surprised by how his team performed.
“We were just ready to play,” he said. “We went through a hard week of practice. Everybody was ready to hit somebody who wasn’t on their own team.”
Hamm said he and his fellow all-stars came together as a team, not just as talented individual players.
“With our team it was never about one person wanting to stand out,” Hamm said. “From the very beginning, all of us guys got along good. We accepted our roles and just wanted to beat the East and represent our schools as a whole, not one person over another.”
Hamm said his Shrine Bowl experience created lifelong memories, both on and off the field.
On the field, a week of challenging practices paid off for him with plenty of playing time.
“Going there, you never know what to expect, like finding out where you stand with the other guys,” he said. “Once we started practicing, you kind of get yourself sized up and you see where you stand.
“After going through the week of practice, I wasn’t surprised how much I played.”
Going head to head against the state’s best seniors required some adjustments, though.
“It’s a whole different thing when you’re not the biggest one on the field anymore,” Hamm said. “You’re playing against guys who are as good, if not better, than you.
“It’s just getting adjusted,” he added. “Everything’s so much faster. Everybody’s big, everybody’s strong, everybody’s fast.”
The two teams opened their respective training camps Friday, July 20. The West squad practiced at St. John’s Military School at Salina while the East did their thing at Emporia State University.
Practice sessions were grueling, Hamm said.
“Most times it was full pads, and each practice was a couple hours long—not always full contact, but there is a lot of hitting,” he said.
“It was pretty physically draining,” Hamm added. “On about Monday or Tuesday you’re think this week’s going on forever. You’re so tired and don’t want move, but you’ve got two more practices yet that day. You’ve just got to kick it in gear.
“It was probably one of the toughest weeks I’ve gone through, but also one of the most fun.”
Just as meaningful as the game was the trip to St. Louis on Thursday to visit the Shriners Hospital for Children. In its 34 years, the Shrine Bowl has generated more than $2 million to support the Shriners’ network of free-care hospitals.
“That was an experience I will never forget,” Hamm said of the visit. “You get to see what you’re putting all this work toward.
“We got to tour the hospital and actually saw some of the kids and patients there, and played with them for about an hour in their rec room—whether it was shooting a few hoops, or whatever.
“You have to realize what you have and be thankful for what you have,” he added. “There are kids out there who are never going to be fully normal. But with the Shriners Hospital, they gave them the biggest chance to be as normal as they can.”
Hamm said the connection between players and patients created a mutual admiration society.
“They may think we’re their heroes when we go walking through that hospital in our jerseys. But when the day is done, they’re our heroes because they’re the ones who have to fight through everything throughout their life.”
With the Shrine Bowl experience still fresh in his memory—along with the bruises and sore muscles from the game—Hamm anticipates the next challenge in his football career.
Sunday he leaves for Butler Community College, where another regimen of three-a-day practices awaits him.
“I’m hoping to get some of the soreness out before I go over there,” he said.