HUTCHINSON — Three area players’ journeys intertwined Saturday at the Kansas Shrine Bowl. As soon as the contest ended — a 14-0 victory in favor of the West team — their paths diverged once more.

One is the local star from Manhattan High who already has enrolled at Kansas State.

Another will continue his football career at the college level, remaining in state to play at Emporia State.

The third will be an Emporia State student-athlete, too. He’s just hanging up the football cleats; baseball beckons.

Saturday represented one last time to don a helmet with their high school logo affixed to each side.

Yet for all that makes them different, one thing united them all Saturday: the honor that comes with playing in the state’s annual all-star game — and playing with the knowledge that the final score means less than the charitable cause it was founded upon.

‘You’ve got to love the cause’

There never was a question in Damian Ilalio’s mind that he would participate in the Shrine Bowl. That had nothing to do with him being one of the top players in the state as a defensive lineman at MHS, or that he’s now a freshman for the Wildcats.

The Shriners organization is near to his heart.

“You’ve got to love the cause,” he said. “My grandma was a part of Shriners at one point, so it was a cause that hit a lot closer to home for me. I wanted to do whatever I could to help support the cause.”

That being said, he still enjoyed capping his high school career with a victory — and in shutout fashion, no less.

“Oh, it’s great to get a win,” he said. “Love to get a win.”

Ilalio played a key role in keeping the East team off the scoreboard, teaming with fellow K-State freshman Gaven Haselhorst at the line of scrimmage, giving offensive linemen all they wanted. (And probably more.) Ilalio finished with three tackles (one solo, two assisted), but cared far more about others receiving the glory.

That includes Trevor Erickson.

A star during his time at Chapman High, he’s decided to walk on at K-State. Erickson picked off a pass in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed the win for the West. Already up 7-0, the West went on to score the second and final touchdown of the contest after Erickson’s interception.

On the field for the play, Ilalio had no idea Erickson snagged the pass out of the air.

“I just tried looking for people to block once I heard us going crazy,” Ilalio said. “But Trevor did really good.”

Ilalio also enjoyed being on the same team, for once, with Andrew Khoury. The starting quarterback for Manhattan’s arch nemesis, Junction City, Khoury led the state in passing yards last season and took the Blue Jays to the Class 6A title game.

“Me and him are pretty good friends. Playing together was definitely different, but I love him as a quarterback,” Ilalio said. “I think he was the best quarterback in the state last year. He’s a great person to play with. I think he deserves a lot more (credit). He’s an amazing quarterback. He has an ability to throw that I don’t think you can teach. It’s an amazing talent that he has.”

While Ilalio and other players heading to Division I schools garnered the lion’s share of pregame headlines, he was quick to point out that simply being selected for the Shrine Bowl is an indicator of talent.

“All of us are all-stars. It’s not like we just jumped on the scene,” he said. “I’ve gone against some of them in football. I’ve heard of them in other sports. So all of us are pretty good athletes and we’ve heard about each other for four years. I’m just getting to meet some of them, so it’s really nice getting to put a personality to the face and the name and make new friends for a lifetime.”

‘You want to see where you’re at’

After a stellar career at Riley County High, Nic Allen will join Emporia State’s football program later this year. And he’ll play. Somewhere. At this point, he said, “I don’t think anything is set in stone” in terms of where he’ll line up.

Saturday, however, he played cornerback, where he recorded two tackles (one solo, one assisted) and a sack for the West squad.

“I think I played well,” he said. “I feel like I did my job — the whole defense did its job the entire night. A shutout is pretty cool, so I’m not complaining.”

Winning helps, too.

“It was awesome,” Allen said. “We worked hard this week. This just caps it off the way you want to.”

Allen set one goal for himself prior to kickoff: He wanted to see how he stacked up against the best players the Sunflower State had to offer — especially those from schools far larger than Riley County.

“It’s something you don’t ever get to do,” he said. “You want to see where you’re at, so it’s a cool measuring stick.”

Allen walked away believing he had proved he belonged.

“I was better at corner than I thought I was, because I don’t usually play corner,” he said with a laugh. “I did a lot better than I thought I would, so that was nice.”

‘A great way to go out’

Brooks Whaley, a multi-sport star at Rock Creek High School, walked off the field with the rest of the East squad saddled with a two-touchdown loss.

But he walked off with his head held high.

And he walked off with no regrets.

“This is it for football,” said Whaley, who played receiver and caught one pass for five yards Saturday. “This is it.”

He helped the Mustangs advance to the semifinals of the Class 3A basketball tournament last season — ironically enough, an event also held in Hutchinson, and played at the Hutchinson Sports Arena, just a few hundred feet away from Gowans Stadium.

But his future is in baseball. He was The Mercury’s pick as the All-Flint Hills baseball player of the year this past season, as he batted .613, slugged .825 and had a .713 on-base percentage. Oh, and the Mustangs won the Class 3A title in dominating fashion, annihilating Anderson County, 19-0, in the championship contest. Whaley will aim to carry over that success on the diamond to Emporia State, where he will play alongside Mason Sturdy, another member of Rock Creek’s title team.

Any thoughts about baseball took a back seat Saturday, though.

“ It was so amazing getting to play in this tradition, in this game,” Whaley said. “It was so awesome getting to hang out with all the guys, meet all them. It was a great time. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Only knowing “a handful” of the players in the game beforehand, Whaley made a point of trying to meet as many as possible by the time the final whistle blew.

While Whaley said he felt he had a solid game individually, he was disappointed the East didn’t manage a single point.

“Our offense didn’t really click tonight, but we just barely missed things,” he said. “I feel like I was getting open against really good guys. It was just a blast. We just missed a couple.”

With his football career now a part of his past, Whaley said he wouldn’t shed any tears.

The finality is here.

He’s at peace.

“This is a great way to go out with my football career, for sure,” he said. “I didn’t even know I was going to get this, so I thought my last game was (in the fall). So this was a great way to go out.”

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