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Cumberland schools well represented on East’s All-Star football squad

Pine Forest, Terry Sanford coaches chosen to lead team in December game


There will be a strong Cumberland County presence at the first East-West All-Star football game played in December this year.

Two Fayetteville coaches are on the East staff for the game. Pine Forest’s Bill Sochovka will be head coach for the East while Terry Sanford assistant coach Jeff Morehead will be an assistant.

Players from Cumberland County chosen for the game include kicker Juan Hernandez of Pine Forest, wide receiver Rico McDonald and linebacker Landon Sargent of Cape Fear, and defensive back Kamal Thames of Terry Sanford.

For years, the game has been played in July, in conjunction with the annual N.C. Coaches Association Clinic in Greensboro.

College football has consistently cut into the talent available for the game in recent years, with top recruits enrolling in summer school and becoming unavailable for the All-Star game.

After considerable debate, game officials decided to move the contest to December, a week after the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. While the East-West game did lose some prospects for its game to the Shrine Bowl, it’s felt that playing in December will give more of the best players available a chance to shine and possibly give some the chance to showcase their talents for scouts from NCAA Division II and III schools.

Sochovka said the East-West coaches actually worked with the Shrine Bowl coaches so they’d have a better idea what players would be available after the Shrine Bowl picked its team.

The Shrine Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 16 at Vikings Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

The East-West game will be on Dec. 17 at Greensboro Grimsley High School’s Jamieson Stadium at 2 p.m.

Morehead likes the idea of the game being in December, just a few weeks after the end of the high school regular season.

“People are still in football mode,” he said of the December date. “They are still in shape. You’ve got players who’ve not gone on to college yet. The overall quality of players on the roster is better than it has been in the past.”

As for the Cumberland County contingent in the game, Morehead said they are all guys with a lot of experience who played big games on Friday nights and can play both sides of the ball.

Through last Friday, Thames has 29 solo tackles, 11 assists and two interceptions.

McDonald, a Wake Forest commit, has 17 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

Sargent has 47 solo tackles with 21 assists and three sacks.

Hernandez averages 52.8 yards on kickoffs with a long of 64. He has a 36.9 punting average and has kicked 20 extra points.

Sochovka said only three players who were invited to play for the East All-Stars declined the invitation, one because he plays basketball and would have missed two regular-season games for East-West practice and the other two because they are graduating early and will be enrolling in college early.

The Shrine Bowl game may actually have improved the East’s chances in the East-West roster because the roster chosen by the Shrine Bowl is heavy with West players that would have otherwise been available for the East-West game.

“We just pray nobody gets hurt between now and Dec. 12 when they have to report,” Sochovka said.

Next year, Sochovka said the N.C. Coaches Association and the Shrine Bowl are working to make the North Carolina selection process for both games even better. They’ve hired an outside company to hold two combines in both the eastern and western parts of the state to evaluate the talent available.

The coaches association also is planning a recruiting clinic during the week of the East-West game to invite both players selected for the game as well as any players not chosen to come to the game site and interact with scouts from NCAA Division II and III schools.

Sochovka said the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s transfer portal is killing the traditional recruiting process for high school athletes.

“A guy that used to be a ‘tweener,’ they’re getting those kids out of the transfer portal,” he said. “In the last two or three years, a lot of very good high school athletes are not getting the opportunity to play because the portal is overcoming us.”

Sochovka said he and the East coaches tried to focus on choosing players who could play more than one position, an important factor when the roster for the game is limited to fewer than 40 players. 

“We feel really good about our guys,” he said.

Follow Earl Vaughan Jr. on X (Twitter) @EarlVaughanJr.

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Cumberland County, Fayetteville, sports, education, high school, football