TOPEKA — The 2020 Kansas Shrine Bowl will look different on Saturday, but there are two local standouts set to represent the East in the game — St. Paul’s Adam Albertini and Erie’s Caype Johnston.
The 47th Annual Shrine Bowl is taking precautions this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Players and coaches have been wearing masks frequently during the week of practice leading up to Saturday’s game, attendance will be capped at Hummer Sports Complex for the game and fans and media will be asked to socially distance and wear masks.
The Shrine Bowl is coordinating with the Shawnee County COVID-19 Task Force to ensure the game happens safely.
“I’m happy that they’re going to have the game,” St. Paul head coach Keith Wiatrak said. “I honestly thought for a while they wouldn’t have the Shrine Bowl. They canceled the 8-Man All-Star Game and other stuff. So I’m really happy they get to participate.”
“It’s not impacting it negatively at all,” Albertini added. “We’re taking extra precautions in wearing the mask. But it hasn’t bothered me. All the boys are still hanging out while we keep our distance. I’m loving it here.”
For Albertini, the tailback tallied 1,764 rushing yards on 135 carries with 38 touchdowns — a 13-yards-per-carry average while scoring a touchdown every 3.5 touches.
As a quarterback, Albertini threw for 402 yards and five touchdowns. He added seven punt return touchdowns, three kick return scores, two interception returns to the house, a receiving touchdown and a fumble return to the end zone.
In all, Albertini racked up 57 total touchdowns in 11 games and help guide St. Paul to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
“When you’re an 8-Man coach and you get a kid selected to the Shrine Bowl, that means you had one of the best players in the state on your team,” Wiatrak said. “Adam has worked hard for any accolades he gets.”
Albertini’s selection to the Shrine Bowl follows the standard his older brother, Anthony Albertini, set in 2018 when he played in the all-star game.
The St. Paul star said donning an Indians helmet for the last time will conjure mixed emotions on Saturday.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Albertini said. “You’re excited that you’re considered among the best in Kansas. But at the same time, it’s my last time sporting the maroon and gold spears on the side of my helmet. But I’m cherishing the moment.”
As for Johnston, the lineman for the Red Devils is relishing his nomination to the Shrine Bowl.
“It’s a big opportunity. It’s pretty crazy, I was shocked when I got selected. I’m excited for it,” Johnston said.
Erie Red Devils coach Eddie Kearns highlighted the fact that Johnston missed games due to injury and still earned the recognition.
“It’s a very good opportunity for Caype,” Kearns said. “He was hurt for the first four games of the year. So he had a slow start. That might have been part of the reason he wasn’t looked at early from colleges. But at the end, I’ve got colleges asking me if he’s signed.”
According to Kearns, Johnston led Erie in one of the most pivotal lineman stat categories despite the lost time.
“The biggest impact he had for us was that he was a big and strong kid, so he helped create a true strong and weak side,” Kearns said. “He does a great job of blocking. He had more pancakes than anybody on the team and played fewer games than anybody. He’s also got great feet and great hands. Any time we can put those two together, it’s great.”
Johnston will continue his football career at Kansas Wesleyan University.
Albertini is headed to Pittsburg State, where he’s been working out over the course of the summer. The running back said those workouts have helped keep him in shape when many athletes have been sidelined in the offseason.
“It’s been a big blessing,” Alberitni said. “You get out in the heat and figure out how in shape you need to be. It’s helped me a lot. Everything that I’ve been through at Pitt State so far has helped me this week. It’s all coming full circle.”
When the game kicks off, both Albertini and Johnston hope to fill their roles the same way they did in the fall.
For Johnston, that’s winning the battle in the trenches.
“I just want to open holes for my running backs and keep my quarterback protected,” Johnston said.
For Albertini, that’s taking advantage of any opportunity with the ball in open space.
“I’ve made it a big point to myself to not get outside of my comfort zone,” Albertini said. “I’m a receiver here at the Shrine Bowl. Once you catch the ball, you’re a running back. And I’m here to win. I don’t care that it’s an all-star game. I want to beat the west side. So I expect to make plays to help my team win.”
Dariq Williams of the Parsons Vikings was also selected to the Shrine Bowl, but the star wide receiver is currently rehabbing from knee surgery.
Saturday’s Shrine Bowl kicks off at Hummer Sports Complex in Topeka at 7 p.m.