CEDAR FALLS Although his touches were quite limited, Kyle Stephenson was all smiles after winning the Iowa Shrine Bowl on July 27.
Being a part of the winning South squad was just one small part of his week-long experience before leaving for Iowa Western Community College. The 2013 South Tama County graduate enjoyed his time with future teammates, other top players from around the state and children from the Shriner's hospitals.
"It's been an awesome week," Stephenson said. "Everything we've done this week has been a great memory to end my high school career with."
South Tama's Kyle Stephenson, left, chats with Marshalltown's Tyler Kluver during the final minutes of the Iowa Shrine Bowl. Stephenson and Kluver played football together when they were younger.
The South Tama running back who led Class 3A in rushing yards last fall reported to camp, along with the rest of the Shrine Bowl players, on July 20. During the week, the players were busy with activities and practices.
Weekly activities included a parent's day, pizza party mixer and dance with the Shrine Bowl cheerleaders from around the state, a trip to Lost Island Waterpark in Waterloo, movie night, hog roast, barbecue for parents and players, honors banquet and parade.
"I didn't do much dancing," Stephenson joked.
Of course, the players also met children from the Shriner hospitals. They even played on the UNI-Dome turf together during the day before the game.
"Meeting the hospital kids was really cool," Stephenson said. "Even though they had something wrong with them, they were still happy and doing everything they can to have fun. It puts life in perspective.
"We both had a blast," he added. "The kids and us had so much fun."
The week-long entertainment and camaraderie concluded with the highly-anticipated all-star football game. Stephenson's South team dominated the action. The South threw for three touchdowns and scored another on an interception return. The South forced eight turnovers and held the North to just 203 offensive yards as it won the 41st Iowa Shrine Bowl.
"We needed to be tough and physical and make good things happen for us to help with field position and we did that," Dowling Catholic and South coach Tom Wilson said of the defensive effort. "We just wanted to establish a level of toughness. We were tough and physical this week."
Six of the eight turnovers forced by the South were interceptions and five of those were thrown by former Xavier and Class 4A second-team all-state quarterback Reggie Schulte, who will be playing at the University of Northern Iowa in the fall. He threw an interception that was returned 35 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter that fully swung momentum in the South's direction.
"Definitely nice to be on the winning team," Stephenson said. "If we would have lost 28-0, it would have been a lot more disappointing."
Stephenson was one of four area players in the game. Marshalltown's Tyler Kluver played linebacker and long snapper for the South squad. West Marshall lineman Colby Dunn also played on the South team. Grundy Center's Dylan Lyman played wide receiver for the North team.
"It was fun getting back together with him," Stephenson said of Kluver. "We haven't played together since seventh grade."
The biggest contributors in the passing game were West Des Moines Valley's Clint Boffeli, who was named the South Offensive MVP after hauling in four catches for 54 yards and two scores, and Matthew Haack of Dowling Catholic.
Haack, who will punt and potentially play wideout for Arizona State this season, finished with 114 receiving yards and began the game with a 60-yard reception on the first play from scrimmage.
"Our strength was with our receivers, and we knew that coming in," Wilson said. "I thought it was going to be tough to run the ball with any regularity. When we did run the ball, a lineman would jump and put us in first, second or third and long. I would have liked to have run the ball more though."
Neither team established much of a running game. The South ran it 31 times and gained just 11 yards, while the North wasn't much better with 85 rushing yards.
The biggest reason for the South squad's dominance on defense was due to an aggressive and overpowering defensive line that featured future Iowa Hawkeye Corbin Blythe of Williamsburg, Southeast Polk's Luke Sargent, Urbandale's Shaq Wells, Newton's Derrick Hurt and Carroll's Jose Zambrano. Wells ended up earning MVP honors after recording several tackles for loss and a few sacks.
"We had a pretty strong defense," Stephenson said. "Then when I was in there, we mostly passed it. It was OK."
Boffeli, who will play wide receiver at Iowa Western Community College, got the scoring started with a 9-yard touchdown catch from North Scott's Randy Schmidt in the first quarter. Cedar Rapids-Prairie's Jace Hanna then found Ames' Sam Markham for a 32-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Hanna finished the scoring with a 32-yard touchdown strike to Boffeli early in the fourth quarter to make it 28-0.
Stephenson touched the ball only one time during the game. During the first quarter, he caught a screen pass and ran for 11 yards, nearly picking up a first down on third-down-and-long for the South squad.
"I'm pretty sure it was first down," Stephenson said of his catch. "Everyone I talked to said it was a first down."
South Tama's star senior enjoyed meeting his South teammates and the camaraderie that was formed during the week.
"I made friends with everybody on the South team," Stephenson said. "It was like your regular team. It was that close of a group during the week we were here. Everyone was cool."
Several Shrine Bowl players have also joined Stephenson at Iowa Western. Joining him from the South team will be Alex Reed (Lewis Central), Jacob Mineart (Fairfield) and Boffeli.
The Reivers started their camp last week.
"It got my body in shape," Stephenson said. "I am mentally ready to play some more football. This helped transition me for college a lot."
Troy Hyde, Marshalltown Times-Republican's assistant sports editor, assisted with this story.