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'Bigger than us': West All-Stars locked in for competition, cause ahead of 77th Montana East-West Shrine Game

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Posted at 10:21 PM, Jun 11, 2024

BUTTE — It's officially shrine week in the state of Montana, as the 77th Montana East-West Shrine Game is set to get underway in Billings this Saturday.

It's an appreciated honor for this year's Shrine Game participants, and one they don't take lightly, as the West All-Stars commenced practice this week at Naranche Stadium before making the trek east.

PHOTOS: WEST ALL-STARS PREPARE FOR 77TH MONTANA EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME

"Most importantly, the bigger deal is getting money to that shrine hospital," said West quarterback Carter Kraft, a Helena High alum who will play college football at Sacramento State. "And then, as my final high school game, it'll also be my last time playing quarterback. So it's kind of a whole lot of lasts in one spot. So I'm just kind of trying to soak up the moment and enjoy it.

"Coach (Pat Duchien) reminds us, you know, enjoy the little moments and remember these times. You'll remember them for the rest of your life, all these things, but also staying focused is another thing that we have to remind ourselves of, because we do have a game to go win on Saturday."

Many of the best in the west are now working together after competing against one another over the years, but with time off since the fall, it's about getting back into football shape as they learn to collaborate alongside new faces.

"I think pretty much everyone's a little out of shape, but we're getting back in there," said West defensive end Isaac Keim, a Kalispell Glacier alum who will play football at Montana. "I mean, playing in this game is just a great honor.

"We're playing with kids that, I mean, we knew as an enemy, and now we're on the team together. And so it's a great relationship that we're making. It's been a great time."

There's the intermingling of classifications represented in the game, as athletes from schools of all sizes line up together, and by doing so, show how the game transcends across the state.

"It's just been awesome because you get to meet all these new guys from places you've never played against, in schools that you've never seen," said West safety Cooper Anderson, a Dillon product who will play football at College of Idaho. "So it's fun getting to see those guys and just make the relationships with them, because they're really good people.

"I've always wanted to play in the Shrine. It's been a dream since I was a little kid, because I came to one probably back in '18 and watched that, and is just an inspiration since then to come play in it."

Many will have football careers after high school at the college level, but for some, this is the last time they'll suit up in the sport, so it's also about enjoying one last ride.

"This is the last time that I'll put on the pads and just play around, you know, because it's been my childhood thing forever," said West linebacker Lucas Lant, a Hamilton product. "It's something that brings me joy, and that it's not to the point where it's sad, you know, losing the last high school game you don't expect to lose, and you don't think it's over yet. So that is, you know, much harder than it is now.

"Put a smile on and just play, and I just have to enjoy it, because if I don't, then I'll regret it."

The West is looking to make it four straight wins in this series when it faces the East All-Stars in Billings, but at the end of the day, enjoying the competition, as well as fundraising for the Shriners Hospital is at the forefront of everyone's mind, because the cause is bigger than the game.

"Seeing the people we're playing for, and then knowing that it's for a great cause really helps us, like, put our focus towards something bigger than us," said West tight end Danny Sirmon, a Missoula Sentinel alum who will play football at Montana. "Coach has been giving out stickers (that say) BTM, 'bigger than me,' for guys who are showing up and representing more than just themselves in this game."