Generations of former Waterloo Bulldogs and Columbia Eagles ranging in age from 21-50 will strap on helmets and take the field for a special night of football on Aug. 25.
For some, it’s the chance to play the game they love one more time with a family member or long-lost friends. For others, it’s an opportunity to relive their glory days while giving back to the community by raising funds for youth football.
Coordinated by Alumni Football USA, the Waterloo High School vs. Columbia High School Alumni Football Game is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 25 on the turf field at CHS.
The man who has acted as ringleader for this game is 2005 WHS graduate Shane O’Brien. The former Bulldog football standout played at McKendree University from 2005-09 before serving as junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coach at Mater Dei.
O’Brien is currently the head coach of the ages 12-14 division of the Columbia Blue Jays youth football program and also serves as vice president of the organization.
“Football has always been a passion of mine,” he said.
Although he is now firmly entrenched in the Columbia community – his wife Katie is a Columbia native and their children attend Columbia schools – O’Brien is still a Bulldog at heart.
“I’ve been called a traitor by some Waterloo people in recent years,” O’Brien said. “But it will be fun to play for Waterloo against Columbia.”
O’Brien started mulling the possibility of an alumni game last year, and started talking with Alumni Football USA representative Chuck Hulke about the idea. The two met in person to discuss specifics during last year’s Freeburg vs. Red Bud alumni game.
Once the logistics were set, O’Brien and others were tasked with rounding up former players from both schools and promoting the event.
“At first, people were skeptical. But it’s real, it’s happening,” O’Brien said.
Each roster features more than 35 players with years of graduation ranging from the 1980s to 2016.
For Waterloo, the most senior members are 1986 grad Dennis Dougherty at offensive line and defensive tackle and 1987 grad Tony Morrow at wide receiver and defensive back. The youngest Bulldogs on the squad are 2014 grads Alex Schultheis at wide receiver/running back/quarterback and Grant Schneider at running back/defensive end.
“I think Waterloo is gonna bring it,” O’Brien said with a laugh.
O’Brien, who is coaching the Bulldogs with hopes of playing despite a sore hamstring, said 2007 grad Blake Novack will start at quarterback. One tall target through the air will be 2013 grad Justin Kretchmer, a 6-foot-6 college high jump champion at Kentucky.
“We have a 21-year-old and a 50-year-old on our roster,” O’Brien said. “To be able to meet the young and older guys who have been through the same program, it’s been cool.”
For Columbia, the oldest teammates include 1986 grad Sean Mahoney at wide receiver and defensive back and 1989 grad Chad Janson at tight end and linebacker. The youngest Eagles are 2015 grads Jacob Hill, JT Broshears and Zac Mathews and 2016 grads Corey Hornbostel and Jake Stone.
A key player for Columbia is 2013 grad Adam Jackson on the offensive and defensive lines. Jackson, an Illinois College grad, played pro football this summer with the Franken Knights in Germany.
Serving as honorary coach for Columbia is longtime Eagles superfan Matt Krippel.
Hill, who was an all-state quarterback his senior season, will play alongside his father, 1994 grad Bob Hill, who ranks as one of the school’s all-time leading tacklers.
“This experience is going to be a memory I will cherish the rest of my life,” said Bob Hill, who serves as Monroe County coroner. “Twenty-five years ago when I was playing, I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to play my favorite sport with my son. I’m really looking forward to the moment I get to take a hand off or catch a pass from him. That’s going to be the greatest moment of all.”
Jacob Hill echoed his father’s sentiments.
“It’s going to be a very cool experience. He was at every one of my games supporting me from the sidelines and now for us to both be on the field together is going to be an awesome experience,” Jacob said. “I’ve always heard about his success in his playing days and now I will get to experience at least some of his skills that he once had right in front of me.
“‘Quarterback Jacob Hill takes the snap and hands off to his father, running back Bob Hill, sounds pretty cool.'”
Kyle Rainbolt, a 1995 CHS grad who serves as general manager of Charlie’s CarStar in Columbia and is active with the Blue Jays organization, has been itching to take the field again ever since a playoff loss to Dupo during his senior year.
“I always said it would be great to put the pads on one more time,” Rainbolt said. “This is a great fundraiser for Waterloo and Columbia’s youth football programs. I am very proud to be a part of it. Plus, it gives the town a chance to come together and maybe see people they haven’t seen in years and reminisce.
“Don’t expect too much out of me – my shoulder is torn –but I’m going to give it a go.”
O’Brien said the experience has allowed him to reconnect with 2005 WHS football teammates John Howell and Alex Schmidt, who will also play in the alumni game.
“We had lost touch over the years, so it’s nice to rekindle those relationships,” he said.
Schmidt said it’s been great to be back on the field with former teammates.
“I’ve missed being on the field with them,” Schmidt said. “It’s also been fun to see guys from other classes. Sometimes you don’t realize how athletic these guys are until you see them up close. I’m definitely looking forward to game day.”
O’Brien said both teams have been practicing in advance of the game, with Waterloo meeting on Sundays and Wednesdays. Attendance has been understandably spotty due to full-time jobs and families, but usually 15-18 players are sweating it out for the big game.
Advance tickets for the alumni game are $10 and may be purchased from any player or at the YMCA, Charlie’s CarStar, JV’s Downtown Bar & Grill or the Blue Jays food stand at this weekend’s Columbia Days celebration.
Call 618-531-0339 for more information.
The benefit of buying in advance, O’Brien said, is that $5 from every ticket sold goes toward the Waterloo Sports Association and Columbia Blue Jays youth football programs.
All business sponsorship money for this game also goes to the youth programs.
Tickets purchased the night of the game go directly to Alumni Football USA.
Concessions will be available at the game, including the Philly Wagon cheesesteak sandwich food truck and Goin’ Hoggin’ BBQ pulled pork sandwich food truck.
It all adds up to what truly looks to be a football game for the ages on Aug. 25.
“The thought of getting the chance to strap on pads and play one more time, you don’t get that opportunity too frequently,” O’Brien said. “Everybody’s just a good ol’ boy wanting to play one more football game.”