North Augusta tight end T.J. Watkins knows why he's in Charlotte today after visiting the Shriners Hospital in Greenville, S.C., this week.
Watkins will be one of five area players in today's 60th annual Shrine Bowl as prep all-stars from North Carolina and South Carolina battle at 12:30 p.m. at Charlotte's Memorial Stadium.
Other area players in today's game include Strom Thurmond's Ryght Jordan and Jason Cox and Aiken's Jamal Reynolds and Neely Page.
Visiting the hospital is one of the things Watkins, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound tight end, said he would not forget.
"It's been fantastic," Watkins said. "Going to the hospital makes you realize what you are playing for."
Net proceeds from today's game benefit the Greenville Shriners Hospital for Children and 21 other Shriners hospitals nationwide. There is no charge for treatment to the children.
Jordan, who injured his right hand this week when he was accidentally stepped on by an offensive lineman, also said the children's hospital was an eye-opening experience for him.
"When we were there, there wasn't that many kids," Jordan said. "But we saw some of the surgery and other things that they have to go through. It was inspirational."
Some of the highlights of the players' week included seeing basketball superstar Michael Jordan at the same hotel the Adams Mark Hotel in downtown Charlotte, where they were staying. There was a welcome home bash for Jordan, a Wilmington, N.C. native, at the hotel on Wednesday night before he scored 35 points in the Bulls' 93-72 win over Charlotte on Thursday.
"We couldn't go see him because we had curfews," said Reynolds, of the team's 11 p.m. bed check.
The Pittsburgh Steelers arrived at the hotel Friday night and the Baltimore Ravens were there last weekend. On Friday, the players watched the Carolina Panthers practice and had lunch at Ericcson Stadium. South Carolina coach Brad Scott was the featured speaker at Friday night's banquet for the two teams.
North Augusta coach Gyles Hall, who is serving as secondary coach for South Carolina, said all the area players have had a good week of practice at Charlotte's Garinger High School and will see considerable action in today's game. Neither team is allowed blitz on defense and both teams must play some combination of a seven-man front.
The game could be an offensive affair considering the size of the wide receivers and the fact cornerbacks must play 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. South Carolina has two receivers, Darlington's Brian Scott and Andrew Jackson's Alex Fair, who are 6-foot-4 and weighs more than 200 pounds, while North Carolina has three players 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds or better including 6-foot-5, 225-pound Delayo Dodd from Carver High in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"They try to make this an offensive game," Hall said. "Both of our quarterbacks (Boiling Springs' Phil Petty and Orangeburg-Wilkinson's Woodrow Dantzler) have been impressive throwing the football. We look pretty good. I think the kids are oriented now on what this is all about."
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