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County’s all-star players soaking up final prep game

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The voices slicing through the warm morning air at the University of Indianapolis are Griffin Oakes’ cue to do what he does best.

“Field goal unit ... field goal,” shout South All-Star team coaches in unison, their pleas spiked with urgency while trying to orchestrate a successful time-running-down red-zone situation at a recent practice.

Just like that, Oakes, one of the most accomplished kickers in 56 seasons of Greenwood Community High School football, if not the best, jogs onto the artificial turf of Key Stadium and calmly drills a 27-yard field goal.

“This is the first time I’ve kicked in full pads since October. Our (sectional) game against Roncalli,” said Oakes, who made 8 of 12 field goals and 51 of 53 conversion kicks for a 9-2 Woodmen squad in 2012.

“It’s being thrown into a game with someone who has never held for you before and someone who has never snapped for you before.”

Oakes isn’t complaining. Quite the contrary.

Both he and Whiteland cornerback Aaron Harris, Johnson County’s other representative in the 47th Grange Insurance All-Star Classic, have been soaking up the sights and sounds of this, their final high school football experience.

One of the main highlights wedged into the five practice days preceding Friday night’s game at North Central are new friendships made among players from schools of all sizes and success levels. Other All-Star traditions include team members exchanging helmet decals and Wednesday’s bus ride to Camp Riley for Children to visit boys and girls with physical disabilities.

“My main thing is it’s just a new experience,” said the 6-foot, 195-pound Oakes, a preferred walk-on at Indiana University who spent a good portion of his June in Bloomington lifting weights with members of the Hoosiers’ program. “I’ve never played in an All-Star game before.”

The same can be said for Harris, who nonetheless has a pretty good knowledge of how the week plays out having followed older brothers Luke (2009) and Jess (2011) onto the South All-Star roster.

“I’m glad to be here. Both of my brothers did it, so I wanted to do it, too,” said Harris, who, in addition to playing in the defensive backfield, was a hard-charging 5-10, 180-pound running back who rushed for 1,541 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior and was the county’s leading point producer with 136.

Even though Harris will be toting the pigskin for the University of St. Francis this fall, South All-Star coach Mike Kirschner of Ben Davis has opted to utilize his skills on the defensive end as a cornerback.

“I’ve been living up in Fort Wayne and everything, so it was kind of weird coming back to this area,” Harris said. “After (Friday’s) game I leave the next day to go back up there.

“Then, having to do defensive stuff was kind of strange, but it only took me about five minutes to catch on.”

Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher, a South All-Star assistant in 2010, isn’t surprised.

“Aaron played defense as a safety as a junior and senior when we got into our nickel packages, and he was a full-time starter at corner as a sophomore,” Fisher said. “No. 1, he’s a good football player. As a coach you want to get the best players on the field.”

One of many All-Star traditions is for teammates to be roomed together in the U of I dorms based on the position they play.

For Harris, this means striking up a friendship with former Warren Central cornerback Tre Moore. Meanwhile, Oakes’ roomie is Matt Gatewood, a punter who hails from South Decatur High School.

“(Gatewood) told me where South Decatur was because I didn’t know,” said Oakes, referring to the Class A program outside of Greensburg. “Then he told me what city it was in, and I still don’t know where it is.”

By Friday night, Oakes with a week’s worth of practices, meals and road trips beneath his belt should have a better idea. Same goes for Gatewood regarding all things Greenwood.

Teammates, you know.

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